Recipient / Profile

Dr Timothy William

For outstanding contribution to the effective treatment of a new cause of human malaria, Plasmodium knowlesi. The discovery has changed the way this infection is managed in the country and globally
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Life

Dr Timothy William was born on 25th August, 1970 in Klang, and was raised in Banting, Selangor. When he was asked to name an accomplishment that he is most proud of, Dr William reminisced his five distinctions for his STPM in 1989 when he was still a teenager. Three out of the 38 students in the whole country with 5 distinctions came from the small secondary school in Banting he studied in.The school had only 23 Science Stream students. Having the results announced in the National news the day before the official release as an example of how a “Sekolah Luar Bandar” could still be successful was Dr William’s proudest moment. It gives hope that kids who  live in rural areas can still  accomplish much with hardwork.

After graduating from the University of Malaya in 1995 as a young doctor, he started working in Hospital Sultanah Aminah Johore Bahru as a House Officer for a year. This period of Housemanship was the toughest posting he had ever endured, as he was grilled and taught by both kind and tough consultants on what it takes to be a good doctor. After finally completing his Housemanship, Dr William was posted to Tambunan, a small town in the interior of Sabah, which he remembers as “heaven on earth”. It was also here that he met Aida, the love of his life whom he later married. During his time at Tambunan, Dr William realized that infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, typhoid, melioidosis and others were a major problem faced by people in rural areas and those in the lower socioeconomic group. Thus, he became passionate about the treatment of infectious diseases and pursued a career that would allow him to make a difference in the way that these diseases are managed.

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Dr Timothy wuth his young family
 
After spending two years in Tambunan, Dr William headed over to Kota Kinabalu to work at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital under the guidance of his mentor Datuk Dr. Jayaram Menon, where he obtained his specialist qualifications. Later in 2003, he worked and underwent training in infectious Diseases at  Hospital Kuala Lumpur under Datuk Dr. Christopher Lee and Dr. Suresh Kumar for three years, then the Royal Darwin Hospital in Australia for about a year, before returning to Malaysia to work as the Sabah State Infectious Disease Physician for Adults for a term of eight years. The most memorable moments he had was being in the team managing patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the H1NI Pandemic in 2009. Dr William started doing research seriously in 2009 on Infectious Diseases despite his already busy schedule in clinical medicine and managing the Sabah State Clinical Infectious Disease Services. He worked closely with his friends and colleagues, Dr Yeo Tsin Wen and Professor Nick Anstey. He currently works at the Jesselton Medical Centre, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah as an Infectious Diseases Physician and also serves as the President of the Infectious Diseases Society of Kota Kinabalu. He remains highly active in both clinical and research efforts.  

When it is time to unwind and relax, Dr William keeps himself grounded by reading the Bible, novels, spending time with his children and having a cup coffee with his wife. He prefers the company of friends who have a positive mindset and speak with candour mixed with humour. Dr William strongly believes that the  work he is doing is just as important and special as the good work many others do in their own fields and profession. 

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Adelene Joyce William (1985 - 2013) will be proudly taking a photo of her brother from Heaven
 
Work
 
Infections of Plasmodium knowlesi parasite have been occurring in Malaysia for many years. Prof Balbir Singh, an eminent scientist discovered that it has been occurring in large numbers in human populations. When the proliferation of cases and deaths came to an alarming state, a research team was formed in Sabah comprising of clinicians and scientists from the Malaysian Ministry of Health, including the National Clinical Research Centre led by Dr. Goh Pik Pin, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Clinical Research Centre, Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas hospitals and experts from the Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Australia. Upon their appointment, Dr Timothy William and his team endeavoured to carefully document the clinical features of P.knowlesi malaria, the risk factors for severe knowlesi malaria, other complications of the disease and most importantly the best way to treat this dreaded disease.

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The William family photo on Dr Timothy William's Graduation as a doctor from the University of Malaya

Through the research done in Sabah, Dr William and the team  were able to show that while Chloroquine was effective in treating P.knowlesi malaria, patients that were on Artemesinin Combination Therapy (ACT) showed a better and much faster response. ACT also had the advantage of being the most effective antimalarial to treat all malarial species, which was important considering that it is often  difficult to determine which malaria species the patient is infected with as there are three predominant species found in Malaysia. 
 
Dr William’s research was also the largest prospective study ever done on this type of infection, and successfully showed that a delay in diagnosing and treating P.knowlesi malaria was related to an increase in the number of deaths. This discovery pushed for a further optimisation  in the State-wide management of malaria, whereby patients were immediately treated with more the most effective medicine and transferred to a tertiary hospital for expert management, leading to a drastic decrease in the number of deaths due to P.knowlesi malaria. These results of the clinical studies were also incorporated in the World Health Organization and Malaysian Ministry Of Health Management guidelines for Plasmodium knowlesi malaria.

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Dr Timothy William with his fellow 3rd year medical students at their rural health posting in Sg Acheh, 1993.  The beginning of his passion for serving those in the rural areas.

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Dr Timothy William leading the team from Menzies School of Health Research and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the Research sites in Kudat


 
Dr William and the team’s research efforts later expanded into a collaboration with scientists from many different fields and from renowned institutions like the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, University Malaya, the Sabah Wildlife Department, University Malaysia Sabah and several others. Among their many important findings was how land change use affected the spread of the plasmodium knowlesi malaria, the risk factors in acquiring the infection by using drones, and to study the movement of monkey populations. The extensive multidisciplinary research done and currently still underway is also made possible by research grants amounting to more than 15 million Ringgit from the Malaysian Ministry of Health and External grants from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Other ongoing studies include Tuberculosis, Acute febrile illness, rickettsial diseases and dengue. Other than malaria, Dr Timothy William and his team have published papers on Tuberculosis, the first reported case of Avian Influenza (H7N9) in Malaysia and other infectious diseases.
 
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Dr Timothy William and Dr Christopher Lee whom he trained under the field infectious Diseases
 
Dr Timothy William stressed that  many people and organisations made valuable contributions to ensure the success of the research projects and  in his own personal life and career. He owes a lot to what has been accomplished to his faith in God, his parents, family, teachers, colleagues and friends. He believes that a lot of work remains to be done in the field of Infectious Diseases. He remains spirited to continue doing research in P.knowlesi malaria and in the field of Infectious Diseases that is  especially affecting the people of Malaysia as well as those in the larger Southeast Asian region. 

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The first ever health research project in the world using Drones
 
Personal Philosophy: “Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles and pray at all times.”
 
Message to Young Malaysian Doctors: “The Patient Always Comes First”. 
 

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