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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

Course on sustainable development recognised at COP 17
2011-12-07

 

Some participants of the PED Nexus Programme during a field trip are from left: Jacques van Zuydam, Chief Director: Population and Development at the national  Department of Social Development; Prof. André Pelser, course coordinator (UFS); Prof. Sosten Chiotha, Director, LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa; and Dr Nola Redelinghuys, course facilitator (UFS).

The University of the Free State (UFS) received a nod of approval at the COP 17 Climate Change Conference in Durban for a short course it presents in partnership with the Chief Directorate Population and Development, United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), LEAD International and SANParks.

The UFS received an honourable mention in a press release from the Department of Social Development for the short course entitled ‘Leadership Training in Sustainable Development: The Population, Environment and Development (PED) Nexus’. The release was issued as part of COP17. It mentions that the course is recognised in a publication of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as one of ten innovative experiences and best practices in population and development in the developing world.
 
Prof. André Pelser, UFS Professor in Sociology, says the university played a key role in the development and implementation of the course. The UFS has been presenting the course since its inception in 2005.   Similar courses under the banner of the PED Nexus, although in a totally different format, are also presented at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Cape Town. A total of 21 courses have been presented nationwide since 2005, of which the UFS has hosted eight. More than 230 participants from all over the world have been trained in these eight short nine-day courses.
 
The PED Nexus Programme focuses on the interrelationships of population, environment and development and its significance for sustainable human development and is closely linked to the implementation of the national Population Policy for South Africa. The press release reads that the programme is implemented in the form of short courses that target professionals and managers in governments at all levels as well as non-governmental agencies responsible for the implementation of programmes related to sustainable development.
 
Prof. Pelser and Dr Nola Redelinghuys, also from the Department of Sociology, have recently been tasked by the National Department of Social Development to upgrade the course outline.  The next course will run from 17-25 April 2012. As in the case of pervious courses, the first six days will be hosted on our main Campus in Bloemfontein, whereafter course participants and their facilitators depart to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park for the practical part of the course. 

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