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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

UFS to award honorary doctorate to Maria Ramos
2004-12-08

The Council of the University of the Free State (UFS) recently approved the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Ms Maria Ramos, Group Chief Executive of Transnet in April 2005. A total of five honorary doctorandi will be honored.

The other doctorandi are Proff Jan Groenewald (D Sc (hc)), Jaap Durand (D Phil (hc)), Sampie Terreblanche (C Dom (hc)) and Anthon Heyns (MD (hc)).

Me Ramos will receive an honorary doctorate in Economics (P hD (Economics) (hc)) for the large contribution she made to the establishment of a prudent fiscal and macro-economic policy in South Africa and hence, to the restoration of the financial credibility of the country in the eyes of domestic and foreign investors. Ms Ramos was the Director General of the National Treasury from 1996-2003.

She obtained the MSc-degree in Economics in 1992 from the University of London and was awarded a British Council Scholarship (Helen Suzman award) in the same year and in 1991. During the early nineties she was among others project leader of the ANC’s Macro-economic Research Group and also a member of the team that negotiated chapters on finance in the interim Constitution of South Africa. She was a research associate at the Centre for the Study of the South African Economy and International Finance at the London School of Economics and also lectured at the Universities of South Africa and the Witwatersrand.

“It is a great privilege for us to honor Ms Ramos and the other doctorandi in their different fields of expertise. This once again serves as an example of the UFS’s policy to give recognition to people who excel and make a difference,” said Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.

Prof Jan Groenewald will receive an honorary doctorate for his life-long commitment to the establishment and development of Agricultural Economics as a subject field in South Africa and in Africa and his various contributions to the UFS. During his career, Prof Groenewald received various awards among others in 1998 when he received the Stals Prize for Economics from the South African Academy for Science and Art and in 1990 when he received an honorary medal from the South African Society for Agricultural Economics.

Prof Jaap Durand will receive an honorary doctorate in Philosophy for his pioneering work on various fields in the South African society. He obtained his Masters degree in Philosophy from the UFS and contributed to almost 60 articles and collections. Prof Durand has a colourful career as academic manager: from professor in Systematic Theology and dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of the Western Cape to Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the same university. He was the ombudsman of the University of Stellenbosch from 2002-2003.

Prof Sampie Terreblanche will receive an honorary doctorate in Economics for the important role he played, and is still playing, to keep the debate about and the need for socio-economic and socio-political reform in South Africa going. Prof Terreblanche started his career as a lecturer at the UFS. In 1992 the Stals Prize for Economics was awarded to him by the South African Academy for Science and Art. Prof Terreblanche was also a founding member of ASSET, an organisation addressing the problems of poverty, inequality and social injustice in South Africa.

Prof Anthon Heyns, Chief Executive Officer of the South African National Blood Service, will receive an honorary doctorate in Medicine. Prof Heyns is a well-known international researcher in Hematology and recently received a Centenary Medal from the UFS for his strong role and national prominence as expert and leading figure in establishing and developing Hematology at the UFS. He was the first head of the UFS’s Department of Hematology and is also co-editor of the only Afrikaans hand book of Hematology. He serves among others as a council member and member of the executive management of the South African Medical Research Council. On the international front he serves on at least five committees of the World Health Organisation based in Geneve, Switzerland. He has two honorary appointments as professor respectively at the UFS and University of the Witwatersrand.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
8 December 2004

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