Tribute: Prof Lynette Denny, a giant bows out  

Portait of a woman working at a desk
Denny was awarded the Order of the Baobab (Silver) in 2021 by President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Michael Hammond/UCT)

The battle to end cervical cancer has been dealt a devastating blow with the passing of the world-renowned researcher Professor Lynette Denny at the weekend. 

“I am deeply saddened at the death of our colleague and friend, Emerita Professor Lynette Denny. Lyn passed away yesterday afternoon, Sunday, 9 June 2024, following a long period of ill health. She was 66,” reads a statement by associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, dean of health sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT).  

Denny was a gynaecological oncologist who dedicated decades of her life to cervical cancer research, screening and treatment. She was director of the South African medical research council gynaecological cancer research centre and had recently retired as head of obstetrics and gynaecology at UCT.  Since 1995, Denny and her team has been working with researchers from Columbia University on the Khayelitsha cervical cancer screening project. The project has been conducting research on cervical cancer prevention strategies in low-resource settings. 

In her own words Denny explained

Cervical cancer was and remains the commonest cancer diagnosed among women living in poor countries due to the failure to either initiate or sustain cytology based screening programs. Our group pioneered the search for alternative protocols for the prevention of cervical cancer in community-based research sites in townships just outside of Cape Town.

According to the World Health Organisation, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women around the world.  Cervical cancer has often been called a disease of inequity: 90% of new cases and deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.  

Denny’s work has influenced policy decisions in South Africa and internationally.  Another one of her colleagues, Professor Mushi Matjila who is the current head of obstetrics and gynaecology at UCT,  wrote of her:

“The extent of her contributions and impact was not only local but extended to the global community. She remained a stern and unwavering advocate for the most vulnerable women within our society.” 

Denny received multiple awards for her work. A highlight was in 2021, when she was awarded the Order of the Baobab (Silver) from President Cyril Ramaphosa for her contributions to the field of obstetrics.  Denny also played pivotal roles in setting up protocols for rape survivors as well as South Africa’s abortion law. 

In a tribute, treatment and prevention advocate for Cancer Alliance, Salome Meyer, borrows from the great poet, Maya Angelou. Meyer writes: 

She indeed was a phenomenal woman/scientist/gynaecologist who only had the patients at heart. She laid many solid foundations. In South Africa she laid a solid foundation for the cervical cancer elimination strategy – all we need to do is to provide the building blocks to continue with her legacy. We owe this to her. Let’s walk the talk and not delay this strategy any longer.  The words of Maya Angelou are so true when speaking of Lyn Denny.

“What an extraordinary human being!  

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder” 

To learn more about Prof Denny and her life read this earlier interview published by Spotlight. – Health-eNews

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  • Health-e News

    Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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