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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

“My time at the UFS was the golden gem of my career”
2016-07-04

Description: Zig Gibson Tags: Zig Gibson

Prof Alan St Clair Gibson
Photo: Oteng Mpete

“My time at the University of the Free State (UFS) was the golden gem of my career. I have worked at medical schools or biomedical research centres in the United Kingdom, United States and at some of the top medical schools in South Africa, but working at the UFS was one of the highlights of my career,” says Prof Alan St Clair Gibson, Head of the UFS School of Medicine.

After spending just over two years at the UFS, Prof St Clair Gibson resigned from the institution in June 2016 and will take up the position of Dean: Health and Human Performance Sciences at the Waikato University in New Zealand in mid-July, where he will assist to establish a new faculty for all the health-science disciplines. “It was a privilege to work at the UFS. I come from a strong research background and wanted to grow research at the university, which I achieved. I came to the UFS because of the Academic and Human Projects and am proud of what has been achieved at the School of Medicine during the time I was here,” he said.

Prof St Clair Gibson highlighted some of these achievements, including the development of a management infrastructure across the disciplines of the school. “The establishment of an executive management committee for the school, as well as research champions in departments, highlighted the importance of proper governance and strategic management. By developing data dashboards, my management team and I could develop an understanding of research income and productivity, how the school works, what the role of teaching and learning is, and how the school could benefit in terms of third-stream income from the many contracts obtained by its academic staff. As a result, contracts and the financial management model of the school have also been reconfigured to the benefit of the university so that the institution and school can benefit from it,” he said.

His strong belief in an open-door policy has made staff feel part of the environment and it has created an atmosphere of equality and inclusivity. He believes in staff development and has, for instance, established leadership and management courses for heads of departments. Another factor to be proud of is the increase in the number of young researchers who recently joined the school, such as Prof Ross Tucker, who is one of the foremost sport scientists in the country. “It is a fact that staff retire or resign in all schools and departments of any university. It is also true that these departures offer opportunities to bring new academic and professional staff into the UFS. In fact, for the first time virtually every department in the School of Medicine now has a full-time Head of Department and 46 new staff were appointed since January 2015,” said Prof St Clair Gibson.

“I am especially proud of contributing, together with the senior leadership of the UFS, to stabilise the relationship with the Free State Department of Health (DoH). With the assistance of these parties, as well as my executive management team, we could find a better way of working together to the benefit of the school and the province.’’

Transforming the student profile to be representative of the country’s demographics is another milestone Prof St Clair Gibson will remember. “The intake of black and white students is of such a nature that we now have a much more balanced ratio of black and white undergraduate students than before.”

“I wanted to stay longer to see the effect of all the changes I made at the school, but the deanship is an offer I cannot refuse. I would have liked to see a steadier increase in the number of permanent clinical staff and have worked hard with both the UFS management and the DoH to try and achieve that; but more work needs to be done.”

I have worked with a number of fantastic staff members at the school, who are determined to do good in a challenging environment. I am amazed at the energy of the university leadership and how the Human and Academic Projects are executed. My wish for the university is to maintain and grow its standards and for the School of Medicine to maintain its reputation as one of the best schools in the country. I will always be a proud alumnus of the UFS,” he said.

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