Wastewater Analysis Asia

“Wastewater as a data source” – Dutch microbiologist Medema recognised for COVID-19 work

Tuesday, 30 April 2024

Dutch microbiologist, professor Gertjan Medema, has been awarded the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2024 for his work on virus detection in wastewater during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Wastewater epidemiology 

The award recognises Professor Medema’s work in water quality and health during the Covid-19 pandemic. With his team he recognised the need for early detection and monitoring of wastewater samples to test for the virus. 

His methods allowed detection within communities before they were officially reported through clinical testing.

The work was immediately influential, with his first publication on virus detection in wastewater being cited more than 1400 times and with more than 34000 views between 2020 and 2023, and established water-based epidemiology as a tool for public health surveillance. 


Global surveillance of disease spread within communities

Professor Medema’s work on wastewater epidemiology has led to his role advising the World Health Organization (WHO) on microbiological drinking water guidelines and Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA); SARS, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH); and wastewater surveillance. 

He also advises the European Commission on the EU Drinking Water Directives and water reuse guidelines. 

During the pandemic Medema was directly involved in approximately 30 per cent of the wastewater Covid testing initiatives globally, which involved 72 countries and 4000 sites. 

As the world braces itself for the next pandemic, wastewater epidemiology is now a more established tool for public health surveillance to spot outbreaks and monitor the spread of viruses.


What is the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize?

The prize is given during Singapore International Water Week and honours ‘outstanding contributions by individuals or organisations towards solving the world’s water challenges by developing or applying innovative technologies, policies or programmes which benefit humanity’.

It was first awarded in 2008 and was named after Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, whose leadership is credited with enabling the country to attain a sustainable water supply.

Professor Medema said of the award: “It is my great honour and privilege to receive the distinguished Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize. This award is a recognition of the innovative use of wastewater as a data source for trends in COVID-19 circulation in our communities.

“I see it also as a recognition of the hard work of many people in the water sector globally, collecting COVID-19 data from wastewater to support our society’s response to the pandemic. 

“This tightens the connections between the water and health sectors. In the current post-pandemic world, wastewater monitoring is now firmly established as a tool for public health surveillance for an increasing number of diseases.”

Medema will be presented with his prize, which includes a cheque worth just over €206,000, a certificate and a gold medal, by Singapore’s president Tharman Shanmugaratnam during the country’s International Water Week.