Professor Priya Soma-Pillay

Professor Priya Soma-Pillay of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is a maternal and foetal sub-specialist with a special interest in high-risk pregnancies and maternal morbidity and mortality. She began her research when she joined UP as a registrar in 2001 and completed two research projects during her registrar training.

Prof Soma-Pillay says that both the University and the department have created an environment that is conducive to research, and regards herself as fortunate for having had mentors who encouraged and guided her during her career. A personal highlight was the completion of her PhD in 2018.

More recently, her research has focused on maternal health following pregnancies complicated by severe morbidity. Identifying these women and ensuring that they lead a healthy lifestyle is important, she says, as 30% of them will develop long-term chronic disease if their conditions aren’t managed. Prof Soma-Pillay’s research aims to reduce maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality. She also hopes to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality caused by hypertension in pregnancy.

“A pregnant woman’s health affects the health of her offspring,” explains Prof Soma-Pillay. “Therefore, it is important for women to lead healthy lifestyles, as this does not only impact on their own health but also the health of their children and future generations.”

Prof Soma-Pillay is a member of the PRIME research group, which is a collaboration between the Universities of Pretoria and Cape Town and Sheffield University in the UK. The group evaluates the causes and prevention of preterm birth, which is an important cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality. She is also a member of the UP-South African Medical Research Council’s Research Centre for Maternal, Fetal, Newborn and Child Healthcare Strategies.

Prof Soma-Pillay singles out Prof Bob Pattinson as having inspired her in her research efforts. “He has the unique ability to extract critical information from research data that may not be obvious to others,” she says. Prof Pattinson is a colleague in the department who recently retired as Director of the research centre, but who is still actively doing research. Her academic role model is Prof Catherine Nelson-Piercy, an obstetric physician in the UK.

Her advice to school learners or undergraduates interested in her field is to “find a career or interest that you are passionate about and try to be the best in that field of work”.

Prof Soma-Pillay is a runner who often goes on weekday morning runs. She has completed two Comrades marathons.

Research by Professor Priya Soma-Pillay

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