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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

From peasant to president; from Samora Machel to Cahora Bassa
2015-03-25

Prof Barbara Isaacman and Prof Allen Isaacman
Photo: Renè-Jean van der Berg

When the plane crashed in Mbuzini, the entire country was submerged in a profound grieving.

This is how Prof Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, described the effect President Samora Machel’s death in 1986 had on Mozambique. In a public lecture, Prof Isaacman spoke about the man, Samora Machel, and the influences that shaped Machel’s life. The event, recently hosted by the UFS International Studies Group on the Bloemfontein Campus, was part of the Stanley Trapido Seminar Programme.

Samora Machel: from peasant to president
Born in 1933 into a peasant family, Machel was allowed to advance only to the third grade in school. “And yet,” Prof Isaacman said, “he became a very prominent local peasant intellectual and ultimately one of the most significant critics of Portuguese colonialism and colonial capitalism.” Machel had a great sense of human agency and firmly believed that one is not a mere victim of circumstances. “You were born into a world, but you can change it,” Prof Isaacman explained Machel’s conviction.

From herding cattle in Chokwe, to working as male nurse, Machel went on to become the leader of the Liberation Front of Mozambique (Frelimo) and ultimately the president of his country. To this day, not only does he “capture the imagination of the Mozambican people and South Africans, but is considered one the great leaders of that moment in African history,” Prof Isaacman concluded his lecture.

Displacement, and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965–2007
Later in the day, Profs Allen and Barbara Isaacman discussed their book: ‘Displacement, and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965–2007’ at the Archives for Contemporary Affairs. As authors of the book, they investigate the history and legacies of one of Africa's largest dams, Cahora Bassa, which was built in Mozambique by the Portuguese in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The dam was constructed under conditions of war and inaugurated after independence by a government led by Frelimo. The dam has since operated continuously, although, for many years, much of its electricity was not exported or used because armed rebels had destroyed many high voltage power line pillars. Since the end of the armed conflict in 1992, power lines have been rebuilt, and Cahora Bassa has provided electricity again, primarily to South Africa, though increasingly to the national Mozambican grid as well.

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