Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Loyiso Nongxa, reiterated the importance of public health and the teaching thereof on a global level when he welcomed guests and delegates to the inaugural event held in the new Wits School of Public Health building today, Thursday, 24 January 2013.
Nongxa addressed about 400 public health experts, professionals and academics attending the International Public Health Symposium, entitled Building Capacity 4 Health.
“This symposium comes at an important time at Wits. Public health matters, it has always been a peripheral issue, but in recent years it has become clearer that in many ways, public health is central to the success and to our response to health care. During the symposium we will focus on critical issues that are relevant, not only local, but at a university with a global profile, dealing with global issues at a local level,” said Nongxa.
The symposium, which has an impressive speakers list, includes sessions and talks by renowned public health experts such as Dr Alex Ezeh, the Executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Centre; Prof. Dan Ncayiyana, emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town and former editor of the South African Medical Journal; Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, Executive Director of Discovery Holdings and former director general of health and foreign affairs; Dr Mark Blecher, chief director for Health and Social Development at the National Treasury; and Dr Yussuf Saloojee, director of the National Council Against Smoking.
Delegates were also addressed by Melvyn Freeman, Cluster manager: Non-communicable diseases in the national Department of Health and visiting Professor at Wits University, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
“The new Wits School of Public Health building comes at exactly the right time – the time to accelerate the building for capacity or public health is now. We have wasted a lot of time not focussing on the right things. We have significant intellectual capital in our country, led by our universities and research institutions. Let us work together to build the capacity that we need to lead and manage the transition from a curative, expensive, hospicentric and unsustainable health system to one that focuses on prevention and provides universal access to good quality care,” the Minister was quoted as saying.
The symposium sessions scheduled to take place capture different aspects of building capacity for health, while highlighting the public health scholarly activities and endeavours of the Wits School of Public Health: Research as a tool to improve health; Research, policy, advocacy and implementation; Building the next generation of public health leaders; Improving health systems effectiveness and efficiency; and Defrauding the public of its health: a panel debate. For more information or to view the programme, click here.
“The [symposium] theme acknowledges the importance of good health, a mere two years before the target date for the achievement of the millennium development goals. It also highlights the core purpose of our modern new building with its stunning views of Johannesburg – that of enabling the achievement of good health for all, through teaching and promotion of learning, knowledge generation and dissemination, and public health leadership,” said Prof. Laetitia Rispel, Head of the School of Public Health.
The new School of Public Health building is the result of a project spanning since 2010, when the first sod was turned. The R146-million construction was made possible by an investment by Wits, the Department of Higher Education and Training, five trusts and foundations, 11 corporate companies and 521 individual donors.
The aim of the building is to serve as a regional and global focal point that will attract leading academics and support the strongest graduate students. Through this building, Wits will increase the number of public health specialists and doctoral students, meeting a critical shortage in South African and Africa. The building will consolidate research and training divisions, which were previously dispersed throughout the broader Wits campus and off campus.
The day ended off with the official opening during a gala dinner addressed by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande. A special journal issue of the Global Health Action was also launched during the dinner, which includes more than 20 scholarly articles written by academics within the School of Public Health and public health experts.