Order of the Holy Brâncoveanu Martyrs
Stefan Dascalu (2018, DPhil Bioscience – Interdisciplinary Bioscience (BBSRC DTP)) was recently awarded the Order of the Holy Brâncoveanu Martyrs – one of the highest distinctions of the Romanian Orthodox Church – from His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel, for his public health activities in Romania and the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was given the award by the patriarchal councillor Rev Dr Michael Tița, at an event in London, hosted by the Romanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s.
The award ceremony and the visit of the Romanian Orthodox delegation took place in the context of an interdisciplinary conference that Stefan organised with the help and support of the University of Oxford Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion. This one-day event “Fighting Pandemics in a Life of Faith: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Public Health” aimed to bring together public health researchers, theologians, religious freedom experts, policy-makers, and various stakeholders to discuss the engagement of faith-based communities and religious representatives during health policy implementation. The overarching message emphasised the critical role of dialogue and mutual understanding between religious representatives and state authorities, which is best achieved through an interdisciplinary approach to public health policy implementation. The conference presented the lessons learned from various case studies which have the potential to be applied to a wide variety of public health contexts, irrespective of country, religion, or even the nature of the implemented policies themselves.
Stefan’s DPhil project looks at the immune response to avian influenza infections in poultry but, over the past 18 months, he has devoted much of his spare time to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in his home country of Romania. In recognition of this work, he has been awarded the BBSRC / Oxford Interdisciplinary Bioscience Social Impact Award.
From early 2020, Stefan regularly appeared on Romanian national television and radio offering accessible scientific expertise. He also participated in a series of live online broadcasts in the UK, providing information about SARS-CoV-2 infection and the immune system and addressing the public’s concerns.
Since December 2020, Stefan has helped the Romanian vaccination campaign, focusing on increasing public trust. He coordinated an academic paper highlighting the main challenges of vaccine implementation in Romania and provided a set of recommendations. This paper, co-authored with prominent figures in Romanian public health, was featured on the official website of the Ministry of Health.
Stefan reviewed Romania’s initial pandemic response, providing the international research community with comprehensive reference work and was the keynote speaker at various conferences such as the National Conference of General Practitioners and the Romanian Healthcare Communication Forum and the largest Romanian annual conference on vaccination and disease prevention. His academic contribution led to him being invited to join international academic and professional networks aimed at improving public health in Romania and to also become a Fellow of the Romanian Society for Epidemiology.
Stefan also worked with religious institutions and church officials in Romania to increase public compliance with the official COVID-19 guidelines and tackle vaccine hesitancy. He appeared on the Romanian Orthodox Church’s official television station, discussing vaccination and its benefits. He was also invited to become an associate expert for FoRB Romania, an interdisciplinary community focused on topics related to freedom of religion and belief. Based on these experiences, he has written an academic article on the involvement of religious institutions during public health crises.
Published: 20 April 2022