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Alumni news

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Alumni news

Supporting Otago: the Charles Farthing Memorial Fund

Charles FarthingIn the early 1980s Otago alumnus Dr Charles Farthing saw his first case of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection. He was studying dermatology at St Stephens Hospital, in London, and soon realised that the rare skin infections in his patients were being caused by a condition that was to become known as AIDS.

From that time, he devoted his life to researching, treating and raising the profile of this disease. As the HIV epidemic spread – accompanied by mounting public anxiety – he established Britain’s first purpose-built AIDS clinic and convinced the British government of the need for a public education programme. Among his allies in this were Elton John and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

His many achievements included the founding of the UK Aids Foundation and HARPA (Helping AIDS in Resource Poor Areas). He helped set up education programmes and AIDS clinics in countries such as Ukraine, Uganda and South Africa, and was one of the first Western specialists to teach and advise Chinese medical professionals on HIV.

At the time of his premature death of a heart attack in 2014, at the age of 60, Dr Farthing was working for Merck, Sharp and Dohme in Hong Kong as the Asia Pacific director of medical affairs for infectious diseases.

In his memory, his University of Otago classmates of 1976 have established the Charles Farthing Memorial Fund, to help support scholarships and research being undertaken by the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Infection Group.

Like Dr Farthing, this team of biomedical scientists, infectious disease specialists, microbiologists, epidemiologists and pharmacologists is committed to finding practical solutions to diagnosing, treating and preventing serious and life-threatening infections.

Their work is wide-ranging and significant, with collaborators from Oxford, Cambridge, Johns Hopkins, Western Australia and Massey Universities. It includes:

  • a new tool for the prediction of death rates from community-acquired pneumonia
  • innovative breath tests to diagnose bacterial causes of pneumonia and lung infections
  • radical changes in the global treatment of hepatitis C
  • new ways to identify patients with septicaemia
  • finding ways to repair gut immune function damaged by HIV
  • testing new approaches to prescribing antibiotics to help reduce resistance.

Professor Steve Chambers – a classmate of Farthing’s – is a key member of this group and has helped drive the establishment of the memorial fund. He is convinced that one of the best ways to honour Dr Farthing’s memory and achievements is to attract and support bright young scientists and physicians to take up the challenge of research into infection.

“People often think infection has been conquered, but over 25 per cent of admissions to hospital today are still for infection,” he says. “We are constantly challenged and moved by the consequences of infection and sepsis – whether it is acquired in the community, such as HIV or meningitis, is a major complication of cancer chemotherapy, or a result of multi-resistant organisms spreading worldwide.

“The fund will help us attract bright young medical researchers here through scholarships and fellowships, and build further capacity in this important work.”

The Charles Farthing Memorial Fund has met with a positive response from donors so far, but Chambers says there is still a lot more to be achieved.

“We are encouraging people to support this work in any way that they are able, either through either one-off or recurring donations to the fund. Even the most modest gifts can make a real difference when made collectively and over time.”

Donations can be made online at or by completing the form below.

For further information, please email or visit the Alumni and Friends fundraising page.

New faces in alumni relations

Diana and Janina full width

The Development and Alumni Relations Office has undergone some changes over recent months.

New Alumni Engagement Manager, Diana Dobbinson (above, right) is a proud member of Otago’s alumni community along with many of her family and friends. She completed her degree in commerce during the 1980s and has spent most of her working life moving between government and the not-for-profit sectors, mainly in Wellington.

Over this time Diana has gained a wealth of experience in senior management roles involving fundraising, communications and marketing across a range of industry sectors including tourism, health, international aid, community and local government, environment and business information.

Diana strongly believes in building lifelong relationships between the University and alumni where everyone benefits.

“These relationships are invaluable – helping alumni build their networks and career opportunities, while enhancing the University’s efforts in student recruitment, reputation building, development and advocacy.”

Most recent arrival Janina Zimmermann (above, left), who hails from north Germany, is our Alumni Relations Officer – Events, covering for a staff member on parental leave.

Janina is responsible for organising alumni-related events in Dunedin, as well as other centres throughout New Zealand and around the world. In addition, Janina supports the development of existing and new alumni network groups.

Diana and Janina are committed to the ongoing development of a highly professional and engaged network of alumni and friends for the University of Otago, across a range of activities, working closely with the University’s divisions and departments to provide advice and support for engaging more effectively with their alumni.

Diana and Janina can be contacted through the Alumni and Friends website.

Events matter

There are more than 147,000 Otago alumni living in New Zealand and around the world, and we can reach around 100,000 of them electronically or by post. Each year a further 5,000 graduates are added to our ever-growing alumni community.

Maintaining contact with such a large group of people can be difficult as they move on with their lives – move cities, get a job, then another, move locations – it is easy to lose touch.

However, Otago alumni events and reunions are great ways for people to reconnect, especially alumni living in other parts of New Zealand or overseas. About 80 per cent of our alumni live outside the Dunedin area.

When our alumni gather at these events, it is wonderful to see how people share memories of Otago – from the friends they made, social activities they enjoyed and the residential college they lived in, to the lecturers and tutors who taught them, and the knowledge they gained during their studies.

We hold between 15 and 20 alumni events each year – big and small. We want to build on this by offering a a greater variety of activities to cater for a wide range of interests.

If you are interested in learning more about the events we’re holding in your area, please email or visit our Alumni and Friends upcoming events webpage. 

The University also offers a number of benefits and services for Alumni: find out more at the Alumni and Friends benefits and services webpage.