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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

Six Kovsies included in Mail & Guardian’s top 200
2017-07-28

 Description: Karla Mostert Tags: Mail & Guardian, 200 Young South Africans, Candice Thikeson, Karla Mostert, Lerato Machetela, Mandela Rhodes Scholar, Thapelo Mokoatsi

The Protea Karla Mostert, who is busy with her master’s degree
in Dietetics at the UFS, experienced a wonderful year
on the netball court. Photo: Johan Roux 

Being on the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list for 2017, gives her a platform to share with South Africa what she does. This is according to Candice Thikeson. “I want to inspire people to follow their passion and pursue their dreams, and Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans allows me to do so.”

The art historian, who is included in the Arts & Entertainment category, is one of six current and former students of the University of the Free State (UFS) featured in the prestigious list. The others are Zola Valashiya (Civil Society), Lerato Machetela (Education), Thapelo Mokoatsi (Film and Media), Karla Mostert (Sport), and Nokuthula Sithole (Politics & Government).

Every year, the Mail & Guardian honours exceptional young citizens under the age of 35 who has made an impact in their respective fields. A special event for this year’s chosen ones was hosted at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg on 29 June 2017.

Making a statement for art historians
Thikeson, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, Bright Young Mind, and recipient of the Abe Bailey Travel Bursary, says she feels honoured. “To me, this means that the impact I am making in the arts is being felt. There are very few art historians in South Africa, and because of this, people don’t often know what this profession entails.”

Inspiring people from all walks of life
She says the reaction from friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances have been overwhelming. “The most heart-warming thing for me has been having men tell me that I inspire them. As women, we are often told that we are inspirations for little girls, but women can and do inspire, challenge, and motivate men too.”
She was appointed as a junior lecturer in the Department of Art History at the UFS in January. This, and being a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, is some of her career highlights. She is also enrolled for a research master’s degree in Art History and Image Studies.

UFS students on the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list:
• Zola Valashiya (Civil Society) – Co-founder and director, Debate Afrika
• Lerato Machetela (Education) – Psychologist
• Thapelo Mokoatsi (Film and Media) – Historian and academic
• Karla Mostert (Sport) – Netball player
• Nokuthula Sithole (Politics & Government) – Activist
• Candice Thikeson (Arts & Entertainment) – Art historian

View the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans here. 

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