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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

State-of-the-art physics equipment and investment in students result in academic success
2017-09-26

Description: State-of-the-art physics equipment 1 Tags: State-of-the-art physics equipment 1 

At the recent nanotechnology facility tour at the UFS,
were, from the left, Dr Mthuthuzeli Zamxaka, SAASTA;
Prof Hendrik Swart, Sarchi Chair in the Department of Physics;
and Xolani Makhoba, Department of Science and Technology.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Nanoscience, which is revealing new properties of very small arrangements of atoms, called nanoparticles, is opening a new world of possibilities. The Department of Physics at the University of the Free State is undertaking fundamental research with potential commercial applications. Its equipment and expertise is giving solid state physics research the edge in South Africa.

The UFS team of researchers and students are passionate about studying planets and atoms, all under one roof. Recently, the department, in collaboration with the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), hosted a nanotechnology facility tour to give the public, learners and the media the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the science of nanotechnology, its origins, potential applications and risks.

Successes of the department
According to Prof Hendrik Swart, Senior Professor in the Department of Physics, the increase in resources since 2008 is playing a big role in the success rate of its research outputs. The Sarchi Chair awarded to Prof Swart in 2012 (bringing with it funding for equipment and bursaries) also contributed to the successes in the department.

The UFS Directorate Research Development also availed funding that was used for bursaries. These bursaries made it possible for the department to appoint 10 post-doctoral fellows, not one of them originally from South Africa.

The investment in people and equipment resulted in researchers and students publishing some 80 articles in 2016. Their work was also cited more than 900 times by other researchers in that year.

Another highlight in terms of the department’s growth in the past 10 years is the new wing of the Physics Building. Physics at the UFS is the only place in sub-Saharan Africa where state-of-the art equipment is found under one roof.

Description: State-of-the-art physics equipment 2  Tags: State-of-the-art physics equipment 2  

Antonie Fourie, Junior Lecturer in the UFS Department of
Physics, explained to a group of delegates and
members of the media the workings of an electron beam
evaporation system.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Application of research
The department is a unique research facility with equipment that includes the X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer (for the study of atoms), the Scanning Auger Microscope, as well as the Ion Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (revealing the chemical bonds in a sample, and drawing maps of the positions of atoms).

One of the areas on which the department is focusing its research, is phosphors. Researchers are exploring light emitting diodes (LEDs) which use less energy, are brighter and provide a wider viewing field. They are also looking into LED displays (LCDs) which are used in flat screens – the phosphors create the different colours and backlighting.

The research on solar cells reveals that phosphors can increase their efficiency by increasing the range of light frequencies which can be converted into electricity. Glow-in-the-dark coatings absorb light in the day and emit it later so cells can charge at night. As glow-in-the-dark phosphors become cheaper and more effective, they can be used as a lighting substitute on the walls of houses, street numbers and stop signs.

Video production of the Department of Physics research and equipment

 

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