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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

Researcher shares platform with Nobel Laureate at conference on nanomedicine
2013-01-10

Prof. Lodewyk Kock at the Everest viewpoint with Mount Everest behind him.
10 January 2013

Profs. Lodewyk Kock and Robert Bragg from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State (UFS) both presented lectures at the first International Conference on Infectious Diseases and Nanomedicine that was held in Kathmandu, Nepal, late last year.

At the conference, also attended by senior representatives from the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS), Prof. Kock delivered one of the two opening lectures, titled: Introducing New Nanotechnologies to Infectious Diseases (the other opening lecture was presented by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Barry J. Marshal). Prof. Kock also participated in the farewell address.

In two excellent lectures, Prof. Bragg spoke on Bacteriophages as potential treatment option of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and on Bacterial resistance to quaternary ammonium compounds.

For Prof. Kock this very first conference on infectious diseases and nanomedicine was followed by a very exciting yeast research excursion through the Mount Everest Highway which winds through the villages of the Sherpa tribe.

He describes his journey: “The Mount Everest Highway is a rough road stretching through hills and glacial moraines of unfamiliar altitudes and cold temperatures. Throughout the journey I had to take care of not contracting altitude sickness which causes severe headaches and dizziness.

“The only way of transport is on foot, on long-haired cattle called Yaks, donkeys and by helicopter. After flying by plane from Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal), I landed at Lukla, regarded as the most dangerous airport in the world due to its short elevated runway and mountainous surroundings. From Lukla, the land of the Sherpa, I walked (trekked) with my Sherpa guide and porter (carrier) along the Everest Highway surrounded by various Buddhist Mani scripture stands, other Buddhist representations and many spectacular snow-tipped mountains of more than 6 000 m above sea level. Of these, the majestic mountain called Ama Dablam (6 812 m), the grand 8 516 m high peak of Lhotse and to its left the renowned Mount Everest at 8 848 m in height, caught my attention.

“Dwarfed by these mountain peaks on the horizon, I passed various villages until I eventually reached the beautiful village called Namche Bazar, the heart of the Khumbu region and hometown of the Sherpa. This took three days of up to six hours walking per day, while I spent the nights at the villages of Phakding and Monjo. From there I walked along the Dudh Kosi River which stretches towards Mount Everest, until I reached the high altitude Everest viewpoint – the end of my journey, after which I trekked back to Lukla to return to Kathmandu and South Africa.

“This expedition is the first exploration to determine the presence of yeasts in the Everest region. Results from this excursion will be used in collaborative projects with local universities in Nepal that are interested in yeast research.”

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