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Wits Health Sciences cracks top 100 globally in clinical subjects of THE ranking - locally lauded

- Deborah Minors

Wits University has entered the top 100 globally in ranking by subject, placing 77th in the Clinical, Pre-Clinical and Health subject area for 2016-2017.

This is the first time since the inception of the Times Higher Education (THE) subject rankings in 2010/11 that Wits has entered the top 100. The subject ranking considers 37 clinical disciplines  ranging from anesthesiology and cardiology, through dermatology and medical ethics, to obstetrics, psychiatry and public health. 

The Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits teaches and researches in all of these fields in its seven schools, which include Anatomical Sciences, Clinical Medicine, Oral Health Sciences, Pathology, Physiology, Public Health, and Therapeutic Sciences.

“The Faculty is honoured to have such exceptional academics teaching future generations of health professionals and making significant research contributions aimed at improving the health of all South Africans,” says Prof. Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The Faculty has been acknowledged locally as well. Five Wits academics won awards at the 2016 South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Scientific Merit Awards held in Cape Town on 18 October. The awards recognise the country’s leading medical researchers whose work has had a monumental impact on health science in South Africa.

Wits University winners of gold awards included Prof. Gavin Norton (School of Physiology), Prof. Viness Pillay (School of Therapeutic Sciences – Pharmacy & Pharmacology) and Prof. Frederick Raal (School of Clinical Medicine –  Internal Medicine, Endocrinology).

Silver awards went to Prof. Cheryl Cohen (School of Public Health – Virology & Communicable Diseases) and Prof. Sithembiso Velaphi (School of Clinical Medicine – Paediatrics & Child Health).

Prof. Norton’s research into improving cardiovascular risk prediction in resource-limited settings like South Africa enabled development of new cardiovascular risk assessments. His work advanced understanding of the effects of regular exercise on the heart, blood pressure, and large vessels.

The work of Prof. Pillay is revolutionising the way drugs are administered. His research focuses on ensuring that drugs don’t flood the body but target affected areas. This has radically improved drug effectiveness in treating Cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases, among others, and has reduced side effects. 

Familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is inherited high cholesterol and it affects 100 000 people in South Africa. Prof. Raal’s research into FH led the US Food and Drug Administration to approve medication in July 2015. Prof. Raal’s research has taken a virtually untreatable condition to one that can now be managed.

Prof. Cheryl Cohen researches the causes, transmission, and control of respiratory disease. Her work provided data on the efficacy of interventions for the causes of pneumonia and enabled the establishment of a national pneumonia surveillance programme. The Department of Health uses Prof. Cohen’s research to generate evidence that guides policy and supports government’s response to communicable disease threats. 

Prof. Sithembiso Velaphi’s work in neonatal (newborn) survival and reducing neonatal mortality and infection rates has helped reduce the morbidity rates of premature babies in Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. His research has also stimulated a project to teach how to resuscitate newborn babies. 

Prof. Glenda Gray, SAMRC President and Associate Professor in the School of Clinical Medicine (Perinatal HIV) at Wits, says: “It is inspiring that South Africa hosts such incredible scientists who continue to advance the state of health in our country and contribute to the global knowledge economy. We are honoured to recognise such excellence.”

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