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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

Early diagnosis of hearing loss is important
2017-09-11

  Description: Magteld small Tags: birth defects, hearing loss, Dr Magteld Smith, Department of Otorhinolaryngology

Dr Magteld Smith, lecturer in the
Department of Otorhinolaryngology
at the University of the Free State (UFS)
Photo: Supplied


One of the most common, misunderstood and neglected birth defects in developing countries is hearing loss, which can most severely impair and have a dramatic impact of the quality of life the of the person with hearing loss. 

This is according to Dr Magteld Smith, lecturer in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the University of the Free State (UFS). 

“Hearing loss refers to all the different types and levels of hearing loss, from slight to profound hearing loss,” she said. 

Derived from a number of retrospective studies in South Africa, it was found 17 people a day are born with hearing loss. More than 95% of those children are born to hearing parents. This estimate excludes children and adults who lost their hearing after birth. 

According to Dr Smith, hearing loss strikes at the very essence of being human, because it hinders communication with others. To enable people to communicate with those with hearing loss, the university’s Department of South African Sign Language teaches students sign language. This year, the department enrolled 230 students. A number of these students are from the Faculty of Education. These students could from 2017 for the first time choose sign language as a subject.

“Studies have shown that important language skills are learned before the age of three because hearing and learning language are closely tied together. Brain development of the auditory pathways and language cortex is occurring in young children as they respond to auditory and visual language. In families that are part of deaf culture, these parents automatically sign from day one, so the baby is learning visual (sign) language, and the appropriate brain development is occurring.

Beskrywing: Doof readmore Sleutelwoorde: geboorte-afwykings, gehoorverlies, dr Magteld Smith, Departement Otorinolaringologie

About 230 students are enrolled for the subject, South African 
Sign Language, at the UFS. As an assignment some of the students 
were asked to design posters to create deaf awareness among 
others on campus. From the left are: Poleliso Mpahane, 
Masajin Koalepe, Ntshitsa Mosase, and Zoleka Ncamane. 
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

“However, if a child has an undiagnosed hearing loss and the parents are unaware, the child will not receive the needed language stimulation — and the hoped-for development won’t take place. It is critical to understand that children with hearing loss have their own talents, different levels of intelligence, socioeconomic circumstances and different abilities, just like hearing children. Therefore, one size does not fit all,” Dr Smith said. 

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