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A gift to address inequality

On 18 November 2015, Wits announced that Wits alumnus Professor Aubrey Sheiham (BDS 1957) and his wife Dr Helena Sheiham had donated R8,8 million to Wits University to support the Vice- Chancellor’s focus on addressing inequality. Donations to UK-registered charities by UK taxpaying individuals are tax free. This benefit can increase a donation by 25%. Hence, Wits’ UK charity claimed a tax refund on the Sheiham Family Gift and received an additional R3 million. This brings their donation to Wits to over R11 million.

Sadly, six days after making the donation, Prof Sheiham passed away on 24 November, at the age of 79. Prof Sheiham was Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health at University College London (UCL). Dr Helena Sheiham is Co-Director, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics.

The Sheiham donation is currently being used to support a programme in the Wits School of Public Health that is researching the social determinants of health and health inequalities. 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 this.

Professor Laetitia Rispel, Head of the Wits School of Public Health, said the donation is being used “to enhance the skills and capacity of Wits staff to teach, research and develop policies on social determinants of health and health inequality, and to support doctoral students in social epidemiology, advanced epidemiology and biostatistics.”

The donation will also foster Wits’ links with other southern African universities and UCL. “Ultimately,” said Prof Rispel, “the donation is enabling us to contribute to efforts in South Africa to eliminate health inequalities.”