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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

Leah Tutu - from a humble heritage to a matriarch of devotion
2013-10-18

 

Leah Tutu
18 October 2013

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Leah Tutu Symposium: YouTube video

There are treasures in life, but owners are few
Of money and power to buy things brand new
Yet you can be wealthy and feel regal too,
If you will just look for the treasures in you …

The joy and the laughter, the smile that you bring;
The heart unafraid to love and to sing;
The hand always willing to help those in need;
Ones quick to reach out, to labour and feed.

So thank you for sharing these great gifts inside;
The caring, the cheering, the hug when one cried.
Thanks for the energy, encouragement too,
And thank you for sharing the treasures in you. (Author unknown)

With these words, Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe embodied the celebration in honour of her mother, Leah Tutu.

On Thursday 17 October 2013, the Annual Intercontinental Leah Tutu Symposium was launched at the UFS’ Bloemfontein Campus. Dignitaries and students alike flocked to the Centenary Hall where friends and family shared their immense love and respect for Ms Tutu.

Approaching the podium, Eunice Dhadhla (co-founder with Ms Tutu of the Domestic Workers Union) started humming and in an instant the audience had risen to their feet and the words “My mother was a kitchen girl. My father was a garden boy. That’s why I’m a unionist”, reverberated through the hall.

“I am what I am today because of her,” Dhadhla said of Ms Tutu. They have walked a long hard road together to ultimately unite domestic workers across the globe. Stretching her small body to its full length, Dhadhla imparted one of the most valuable lessons she has learned from Ms Tutu, “Stop crawling, stand up and walk for yourself.”

As soon as Dr Sindiwe Magona – acclaimed writer and poet – ascended the stage, her energy rushed across the room with electrifying intensity. Her high regard for Ms Tutu as public icon as well as a mother, wife and friend, was palpable. Belting out line after line of a poem she wrote especially for Ms Tutu, the audience echoed their agreement in a mutual exchange.
No sooner were they seated, than Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prof Jonathan Jansen had the crowd roaring with laughter. Archbishop Tutu’s familiar chuckle peppered his story of how he came to propose to his wife. It was clear, though, how much he reveres Ms Tutu’s presence in his life. With enormous awe, he revealed her innate power, specifically during difficult times in our country’s past – from weathering death threats against her husband to public humiliation.

But despite adversity and heartache, in front of the Centenary Hall, this matriarch stood up and beamed joy into everyone present.

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