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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

Living proof of transformation
2012-07-20

 Prof. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (middle) facilitated a dialogue with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Prof. Mark Solms on the Transformation in the Solms-Delta Wine Estate.
Photo: Johan Roux

18 July 2012

“We have the capacity to make a success of South Africa. We have incredible people who refuse to leave the country and want to make a difference.” This is according to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who was speaking at the University of the Free State (UFS) today.

Dr Tutu took part in a dialogue with Prof. Mark Solms, owner of the Solms-Delta wine estate in Franschhoek.Prof. Solms is also an A-rated scholar and the Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town.The theme of the dialogue was “Living Reconciliation: Winds of Change in Franschhoek and Transformation at Solms-Delta Wine Estate”.

Prof. Solms led an initiative to transform the lives of farm workers on the estate through the Wijn-de Caab Trust. This initiative was extended to empower the wider community of farm dwellers when Prof. Solms co-founded the Delta Trust and the Franschhoek Valley Transformation Charter.

The dialogue was the second in the Dialogue between Science and Society series and was facilitated by Prof. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Senior research professor on Trauma, Forgiveness and Reconciliation at the UFS. The Dialogue series aims to inspire new ways of thinking about responsible citizenship. It also highlights the unique and important ways of engaging with the critical issues of social equality, social justice, social transformation and reconciliation in South Africa.This morning Dr Tutu said the work done in the Franschhoek community is proof that people cannot prosper alone if others are also not prospering. “We belong together. Why did it take us so long to realise it? South Africans have the capacity to make South Africa a better place. It is unacceptable that people go hungry and go to school under trees. It is unacceptable that they still have no books in the third term, and that the pass rate is 30%.

“Is this why we struggled, why people died? We want to go to our graves smiling… we will not be allowed peace and stability if we do not attend to the problems.”

Prof. Solms said the miracle of the political transformation did not trickle down to the people. A lot has been done, but much more needs to be done. “It can only be done by us. It is not the government’s responsibility. The way we live as a result of apartheid is that we are a deeply divided society. We must recognise this and do something to change it.”

He encouraged people to think “small”. An individual cannot change the whole country, but the changes in his community are there to see.

Dr Tutu also congratulated the UFS on becoming a truly South African university, recognising the transformation of the past few years.

The dialogue was presented at the Global Leadership Summit that 250 students and academic leaders from 21 international universities are participating in. The summit runs until Friday 20 July 2012.
 

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