07 June 2023 | Story André Damons | Photo Supplied
Prof Champion Nyoni and Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa
Prof Champion Nyoni, Senior Researcher in the School of Nursing at the University of the Free State (UFS). Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, an African traditional medicine expert and Head of the African Medicines Innovations and Technologies Development Platform (AMITD) within the UFS Department of Pharmacology.

Prof Champion Nyoni, Senior Researcher in the School of Nursing at the University of the Free State (UFS), has been appointed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Academy Standing Advisory Quality Committee – making him the only representative from Africa to serve in this academy.

Another UFS staff member, Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, an expert on African traditional medicine and Head of the African Medicines Innovations and Technologies Development Platform (AMITD) within the Department of Pharmacology, has also been appointed to serve on a WHO initiative – the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine Editorial Board/Evidence Task Force. His appointment will be effective until the end of December 2023.

Prof Matsabisa will also attend the first WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit in India in August 2023, after being invited to serve as a member of the Summit External Advisory Group for the WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit (‘Advisory Group’).

The appointment of Prof Nyoni, who is the current Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Africa Interprofessional Education Network (AfrIPEN), and Deputy Chair of the Board for Interprofessional.Global a global confederation of interprofessional networks based in the Netherlands – will be effective for two years.

The WHO Academy is a priority initiative of the WHO transformation agenda and will support accelerated learning and skills recognition of staff and external stakeholders to advance the implementation of the WHO's strategic plan and ‘triple billion’ goal: ensuring that by 2023, an additional one billion people benefit from universal health coverage; one billion more are afforded better protection in health emergencies, and one billion more enjoy improved health and well-being.

Work and contribution being recognised

“I feel thrilled about this exciting adventure. I think this is an exciting opportunity in my career to be recognised by an organisation such as the WHO to serve in the capacity of adviser. I think this is a huge feather in my cap, our School of Nursing, and the faculty. My work and contribution are being recognised and this is a good thing. I am hoping to make an impact in this committee and to also learn from it,” says Prof Nyoni.

Even though there is a bit of pressure representing the whole continent, Prof Nyoni believes his experience with global organisations will come in handy. He is ready to take on the challenge, give it his best, and leave a legacy of excellence.

“Due to the complexity of health professions education in our context, our different cultural, geographical, and socio-economic issues, it is truly an interesting concept to actually think of representing an entire region. I have worked in and continue to work in many countries in Africa through various research projects and postgraduate students, which gives one some insight into what is happening in the region, but often one needs to know more.”

Global knowledge centre for traditional medicine

For Prof Matsabisa, who is also the chairperson of the WHO Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicine (REACT), it is always thrilling to be recognised by serving in such world bodies.

The WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (WHO-GCTM) was established in 2022 as a global knowledge centre for traditional medicine to harness the potential of traditional medicine from across the world through modern science and technology in order to improve the health of people and the planet.

“I look at myself most of the time and ask myself what I am doing right to be given such recognition globally. I am, however, always ready and prepared to take such responsibilities and challenges. I feel happy and great knowing that my expertise and experience is recognised so far from home. I will do my best and try not to fail anyone. I will give it my all and put my whole heart into this task,” says Prof Matsabisa.

He looks forward to seeing the WHO develop tools and guidelines that will promote the institutionalisation of traditional medicine and to come up with positive resolutions on how to take traditional medicines forward.

World takes traditional medicine seriously

According to Prof Matsabisa, the world is now taking traditional medicines seriously. The developed world is now serious about using traditional medicines for their daily health needs and consumption. The world is accepting the positive and important role that traditional medicine is playing in our health-care needs and how it is contributing to the health and well-being of people.

“It is unfortunate that, at home, we have sceptics and people still living in the past who are blind to the importance of traditional medicines. The WHO is now seriously taking the lead in giving advice and guidelines on traditional medicines. It makes me very happy to see these significant movements around traditional medicines."

Africa, Prof Matsabisa concludes, still has its natural resources and its indigenous knowledge as the main remaining tools to get the continent into development and economic freedom. If strategic decisions could be made around developments based on the natural resources for local beneficiation and moving away from the ‘thinking about resources’ to a knowledge-based economy, we could take the continent out of poverty, famine, and wars, and redirect resources to development, technical skills development, and wealth generation for all.

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