Start main page content

Graduates should contribute to medical research

- Buhle Zuma

The opportunities as a medical graduate to contribute to nation building are second to none - Shabir Madhi.

Medical graduates have a unique opportunity to contribute to nation building and social justice, says a leading expert on child vaccines.

Wits Professor of Vaccinology, Shabir Madhi, who has been at the forefront of understanding the two leading causes of deaths in children under the age of five, addressed the class of 2015 at the Faculty of Health Sciences graduation ceremony on 10 December 2015.

Madhi made an appeal to the graduands to respond to another national imperative – the world of academia and medical research.

“While the country has a need for practising health practitioners, I ask you to reflect on a huge potential which exists not only making a difference on a one-to-one basis, but having the privilege of being involved in shaping the destiny of hundreds of thousands of children and lives throughout the world through medical research.”

“The opportunities as a medical graduate to contribute to nation building are second to none, either than perhaps in the teaching profession,” said Madhi.

The work done by Madhi and his team at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto informed the recommendations by the World Health Organization which called on lower and middle income countries to introduce the child life-saving vaccines as part of their public immunisation programmes. This was after his research showed that the use of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines and rotavirus vaccines reduced the number of deaths in children.

The result of this research-led policy intervention is a reduction in the number of children admitted to South African hospitals for pneumococcal and rotavirus illnesses. “There has been a 40% reduction in hospitalisation”.

Mahdi said there are many health challenges that require dedicated teams to conduct research. The majority of child deaths result from HIV infection and new born conditions such as prematurity, asphyxia, and infection, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and tuberculosis.

Malnutrition was an important contributor in many deaths. These causes of death were mostly related to socio-economic conditions, according to a 2013 report presented by the Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group.

“Of the one million children born each year, 47 000 will not live to see the age of five. That basically equates to 130 children dying each day,” said Madhi.

“This is unacceptable when you consider that many of these deaths are preventable”, decried Madhi.

“As healthcare professionals it is within our grasp to make a difference those less fortunate than us not only in South Africa but more generally on the African continent.

“It is among you that the next generation of scientists irrespective of race needs to evolve and serve as future role models for the children that are being born today,” he concluded.

Over 1 900 students graduated at Wits University from 8 until 11 December 2015, during seven ceremonies. Of these graduands, more than 720 were from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Short biography

Professor Madhi is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and Professor of Vaccinology and Director of the Medical Research Council’s Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit at Wits. He also holds the Department of Science and Technology and National Research Foundation Chair in Vaccine Preventable Diseases. A Wits graduate, Professor Madhi qualified as a paediatrician in 1996 and obtained his PhD from Wits in 2003.

He is an A-rated, internationally recognised scientist who is widely published with at least six articles in the highest ranked medical journal globally, the New England Journal of Medicine. He has received numerous awards, including the National Research Foundation President’s Award, the Wits Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award and the Medical Research Council’s Life Time Achievement Award.