Tuberculosis is a long way from top of the agenda for most Australian clinicians in 2022, which may explain why Professor Guy Marks spends much of his time in Vietnam.
On Monday, he was honoured as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for “distinguished service to respiratory medicine and research, and to tertiary education”.
This recognised almost three decades of work as an educator and researcher at the University of NSW South Western Sydney Clinical School, where he has been Scientia Professor since 2019.
One of Australia’s most high-profile researchers into respiratory diseases, he has been director of the Australian Centre for Airways Disease Monitoring as well as head of respiratory and environmental epidemiology at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.
The co-author of over 450 research articles, reviews, book chapters and editorials, and 25 AIHW reports, he has also held roles at the University of Sydney, TSANZ and NSW Health.
However, when the limbic called him for an interview, he answered from the back of a taxi in Vietnam, where he runs a research centre in tuberculosis.
He says it is this work – on a disease virtually eliminated in Australia for decades – that has made him most proud.
“When you tell people you work in TB they’ll say ‘I thought that was finished in Australia’ and honestly that is essentially true,” he says.
“But of course that isn’t the case in much of the rest of the world, where it isn’t finished and kills more people than any other infectious disease except COVID-19.”
The desire to address that drove his involvement in the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, where he has been president since 2019.
He says he was inspired in the early 1990s by direct contact with patients at Liverpool Hospital in southwest Sydney, one of the few remaining TB hotspots in Australia at the time.
“That was the one place where there was a lot of TB and I was seeing it mainly in Vietnamese migrants and refugees,” he says.
“I figured that if there was so much in the community here, there must be a hell of a lot more in Vietnam – which turned out to be the case along with a hell of a lot of other countries.”
Roused by the experience, he began researching TB in Australia, eventually recruiting a PhD student from Vietnam.
“He introduced me to his colleagues in Vietnam and we’ve worked together ever since, focused on eliminating TB in Vietnam and other settings.”
Besides his work on TB, he says he has also been proud of his research in the epidemiology of other respiratory illnesses, particularly asthma, starting under Professor Ann Woolcock before her death in 2001.
“She was an outstanding and remarkable person and I was fortunate enough to have her as my academic mentor over the first part of my career,” he recalls.
He said he was “delighted and honoured” at receiving the AO, stressing most of his research achievements had been a team effort.
“I’ve worked with some really wonderful people. None of the things that I have done would have been possible working alone and I am very grateful for all that my colleagues have done.”