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20 August 2020 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Barend Nagel
Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of the Free State (UFS), has been appointed as the chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicines for COVID-19.

Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of the Free State (UFS), will lead Africa’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic with his appointment as chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicines for COVID-19.

Prof Matsabisa has been chosen over 25 other experts from 27 African countries to head this expert committee tasked with setting up research and clinical trials for COVID-19 and beyond. The committee is also supported by the African Union (AU), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC – Africa), and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).

This committee was established by the WHO and the Africa CDC on 22 July with the aim of providing independent scientific advice and support to countries on the safety, efficacy, and quality of traditional medicine therapies. It is also an effort to enhance research and development of traditional medicines for COVID-19 in Africa.

Looking forward

“This is a huge continental and global responsibility being laid on my shoulders as a chairperson.  I have to keep the committee together and ensure that it delivers on its set mandate and terms of reference.  I need to ensure that the committee helps the continent and region to get the scientific and legislative aspects on traditional medicine development on track.”  

“I have taken this position and responsibility, knowing quite well what it entails. I want to do this for the continent and for the sake of good science of all traditional healers and consumers of traditional medicines on the continent and beyond,” says Prof Matsabisa.

According to Prof Matsabisa, he is looking forward to working with a team of dedicated experts from 27 countries in the African region, and being of help to countries that need assistance with clinical trials, including preclinical work to move to clinical research.

Prof Matsabisa says he is also looking forward to countries asking South Africa to be part of their multi-centre studies in clinical trials for traditional medicines, and to help set up clinical trial teams that include Western-trained clinicians to get into traditional medicine studies. 

The work of the committee

According to Prof Matsabisa, his new position took effect the same day as his appointment and will run as long as COVID-19 is part of our daily lives and even beyond. It entails supporting member states to implement the WHO master plan for clinical trial protocols in order to generate credible data for COVID-19 results, based on traditional medicines. The committee will also coordinate support to member states in the African region to collaborate on clinical trials of traditional medicine-based therapies – elevating standards by pooling expertise in multicentre studies, as well as complying with GCP and good participatory practice guidelines for trials of emerging and re-emerging pathogens.
“The committee will also advise on strengthening the capacity of national medicine regulatory authorities to accelerate the issuance of marketing authorisations for traditional medicine products that have been well researched for safety, efficacy, and quality, as well as to expedite the approval of clinical trials on traditional medicines. This will help to meet the national registration criteria and the WHO norms and standards of quality, safety, and efficacy for the management of COVID-19 and others.”

“It will also provide independent scientific advice to the WHO and other partners regarding policies, strategies, and plans for integrating traditional medicines into COVID-19 responses and health systems,” explains Prof Matsabisa. 

Aiming for the top spot 

Prof Matsabisa has been described as having the third highest research output – something he is not satisfied with. 
“I was disappointed that only one point separated me from the second place. I will push for first place as this is my ultimate aim. My motivation for this is simple – I like what I am doing, I do not take it as a job but do it because I love research.”  

“I always like to tell students that we should be proud to one day see products in the shops that we can relate to and to which we have contributed or that we have made.   This is what drives me and my staff.  I have a beautiful team of students, staff, and postdoctoral fellows who share my vision of research.  We all have a shared vision and strive to be relevant at all times in science research, development, and teaching.”

• Prof Matsabisa was recently part of a national conference with the theme: Harnessing science, technology, and innovation in response to COVID-19: A national and international effort. The conference was hosted by Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, with Pres Cyril Ramaphosa, Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health, Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Prof Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, in attendance. 

News Archive

Africa's Black Rhino conservation strategy must change
2017-07-10

 Description: Black Rhino Tags: conservation strategy, black rhino, Nature Scientific Reports, National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, extinction, decline in genetic diversity, Prof Antoinette Kotze, Research and Scientific Services, Dr Desire Dalton 

The black rhino is on the brink of extinction. The study that was 
published in the Nature Scientific Reports reveals that the
species has lost an astonishing 69% of its genetic variation. 
Photo: iStock

The conservation strategy of the black rhino in Africa needs to change in order to protect the species from extinction, a group of international researchers has found. The study that was published in the Nature Scientific Reports reveals that the species has lost an astonishing 69% of its genetic variation. 

South African researchers took part 

The researchers, which included local researchers from the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG), have highlighted the fact that this means the black rhino is on the brink of extinction. "We have found that there is a decline in genetic diversity, with 44 of 64 genetic lineages no longer existing," said Prof Antoinette Kotze, the Manager of Research and Scientific Services at the Zoo in Pretoria. She is also affiliate Professor in the Department of Genetics at the University of the Free State and has been involved in rhino research in South Africa since the early 2000s.  

DNA from museums and the wild 
The study compared DNA from specimens in museums around the world, which originated in the different regions of Africa, to the DNA of live wild animals. The DNA was extracted from the skin of museum specimen and from tissue and faecal samples from animals in the wild. The research used the mitochondrial genome.

"The rhino poaching ‘pandemic’
needs to be defeated, because
it puts further strain on the genetic
diversity of the black rhino.”


Ability to adapt 
Dr Desire Dalton, one of the collaborators in the paper and a senior researcher at the NZG, said the loss of genetic diversity may compromise the rhinos’ ability to adapt to climate change. The study further underlined that two distinct populations now exists on either side of the Zambezi River. Dr Dalton said these definite populations need to be managed separately in order to conserve their genetic diversity. The study found that although the data suggests that the future is bleak for the black rhinoceros, the researchers did identify populations of priority for conservation, which might offer a better chance of preventing the species from total extinction. However, it stressed that the rhino poaching ‘pandemic’ needs to be defeated, because it puts further strain on the genetic diversity of the black rhino. 

Extinct in many African countries 
The research report further said that black rhino had been hunted and poached to extinction in many parts of Africa, such as Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, and Ethiopia. These rhino are now only found in five African countries. They are Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa, where the majority of the animals can be found. 

 

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