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Generous donation for Wits

- Wits University

The Sheiham’s gift will initially be used to support a programme in the Wits School of Public Health to research the social determinants of health inequalities.

Wits alumnus Professor Aubrey Sheiham and his wife Dr Helena Sheiham have donated R8.8 million to Wits University to support the Vice-Chancellor’s focus on addressing inequality. 

Despite the significant progress since democracy, South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. While much of the research on inequality has focused on its link with poverty, what has been missing is an understanding of the political forces and social conditions that allow inequality to increase. Wits Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib’s project aims to address this. 

Health inequalities

The Sheiham’s gift will initially be used to support a programme in the Wits School of Public Health to research the social determinants of health inequalities. The couple has also pledged to donate more in their wills, so that the University’s research is sustained.

In South Africa, huge health inequalities remain, and race and gender continue to be the key markers of vulnerability, with a disproportionate burden of ill-health among black African and rural communities. The Sheiham Family Wits Programme on Social Determinants of Health and Health Inequality will seek to reduce these health inequities.

First, funds will be used to enhance the skills and capacity of Wits staff to teach, research and develop policies on Social Determinants of Health and Health Inequality. From 2016, the fund will support doctoral students in social epidemiology, advanced epidemiology and biostatistics.

Professor Laetitia Rispel, Head of the Wits School of Public Health, welcomed the gift.

“The Sheiham family donation could not have come at a more appropriate time. At the end of September 2015, a high-level UN meeting ratified the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These SDGs demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal agenda to eradicate poverty and to reduce the unacceptable health inequalities that continue to exist within and among countries. The donation will complement recent large grants obtained by the School of Public Health to build advanced biostatistics capacity in South Africa and the Africa region, and to commence the first post-graduate degree in implementation science in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Rispel.

Collaborative efforts

The donation will also foster Wits’ links with other southern African universities and  the University College London (UCL), a leading UK university. Workshops will be held with faculty members from South African schools of public health and UCL’s Institute of Health Equity.

The workshops aim to enhance and disseminate knowledge and to influence policies on health equity for academics and policy makers throughout South Africa.

“We are delighted by the prospects of collaborating with the Institute of Health Equity, UCL, and with its Director, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, world renowned for his work on eliminating health inequities, and addressing the social determinants of health”, says Rispel.  “Ultimately, the grant will enable us to contribute to efforts in South Africa to eliminate health inequalities,” she adds.


“Inequality is a scourge worldwide but especially in South Africa,” says Habib. He praised the Sheihams for their gift adding: “It shows us how concerned and caring individuals can make a profound commitment to research for a better future for South Africa.”

Professor Aubrey Sheiham is Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health at UCL. Dr Helena Sheiham is Co-Director, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics. Over the years, they have shown a strong commitment to issues of social good both in South Africa and in the UK, with this generous donation to Wits being their latest philanthropic gift.