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R70m to transform the ‘Bara Burns Unit’ into a world-class facility

- Wits University

New specialised Wits Roy McAlpine Burns Unit will treat burn survivors and will create a high-tech skin bank and tissue engineering laboratory in Soweto.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi and Mr Roy McAlphine at the sod-turning ceremony of the new Wits Roy McAlpine Burns Unit

More than 250 adults and 500 children with severe burns are admitted to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) annually, from Soweto, surrounding areas and the continent, due to the highly specialised service offered by the Burns Unit. However, due to the increasing number of critically ill burn patients who are unable to access essential care, an extension of the facilities and services is urgently required.

To address this problem, a new wing of the Burns Unit, a partnership between Wits University and the CHBAH, will be built thanks to a donation of R70 million from the Roy McAlpine Foundation. This generous contribution will dramatically increase the Unit’s ability to provide quality healthcare to patients, and will advance training and innovation in this particular area of healthcare, for the public good.

The Burns Unit is the only public health, specialised, burns unit located in Gauteng that serves all patients who cannot afford treatment at private facilities. The new building was officially announced at a sod-turning ceremony on 29 September 2021, where ground was broken on the building site in the CHBAH precinct. The Unit will be named the Wits Roy McAlpine Burns Unit after its benefactor.

Professor Martin Smith, the Head of the Department of Surgery in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University, says that the CHBAH plays a vital role in the healthcare of communities in Gauteng and its neighbouring provinces, and explains why the new facility is essential: “Burns are unfortunately a common component of our epidemic of trauma.

The Burns Unit is a unique facility that serves as a referral centre for the treatment of severely burned patients. It also provides essential training for all healthcare professionals involved in the complex care of severely burned patients and important evidence to assist in advancing the modern management of patients. This donation will greatly enhance each of these activities and improve access for many more patients. This donation is hugely appreciated by the Department of Surgery and all who work with burn patients.” 

Founded in 1991, the Unit is regarded as the pre-eminent burns treatment facility in Africa and is jointly managed by Wits University and the Gauteng Department of Health, which oversees public hospitals in the province.

Director of the Wits Roy McAlpine Burns Unit, Professor Adelin Muganza, whose research interests include skin substitutes for burn injuries and new technologies, explains the importance of the donation: “The Wits Roy McAlpine Burns Unit is the start of realising our dream to establish a Centre of Excellence that will treat more patients and enhance research and training. One of our goals is to have a skin bank and a tissue engineering laboratory where synthetic and skin tissue for wound cover can be developed. This will greatly enhance the Unit’s capacity and also allow for research to be performed to enhance the science and treatment of burns.”

Architectural representation of the new Wits Roy McAlpine Burns Unit

Architectural representation of the new Wits Roy McAlpine Burns Unit


The donation is the largest ever made by the Roy McAlpine Charitable Foundation, which also bestowed a substantial amount to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital in 2019. The Foundation is invested in health and education and deems these important aspects in promoting equality. “This project is the largest project undertaken to date by the Roy McAlpine Charitable Foundation. The project fulfills one of the stated objectives of its founder, Roy McAlpine, namely the expansion and improvement of health facilities available to the South African public and the training of medical professionals. It also represents an expression of faith by the Foundation in the future of the country during these trying times,” says Jamie Ingils, Chairman of the Foundation.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal,says: “We are grateful to Mr Roy McAlpine and the Charitable Foundation for this contribution that will undoubtedly save lives, advance healthcare and innovation on the continent, and benefit humanity. This is a major project for Wits in the lead up to our centenary in 2022, which demonstrates the value of public-private partnerships with academia, and we look forward to opening it in the near future.” 

The Acting CEO of the CHBAH, Dr Stephen Mankupane adds his gratitude to the Foundation: “The CHBAH again expresses its gratitude for the massive support from the Roy McAlpine Foundation. This will help the hospital in its mission to consolidate excellence in the clinical care of patients. This donation helps the hospital in our ambition to remain one of the best in the world.”

Professor Shabir Madhi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor of Vaccinology at Wits also welcomed the donation.

“We are delighted to embark on this partnership with the Roy McAlpine Charitable Foundation and the Gauteng Department of Health. This donation represents a substantial commitment to furthering the cause of quality healthcare for all, and will provide the much needed access to resources that so many of the Province’s most vulnerable citizens deserve,” said Madhi.

The Roy McAlpine Burns Unit at CHBAH demonstrates the importance of goodwill and philanthropy in improving society. Wits University as an institution with a history steeped in advancing the public good is working on a number of public-private partnerships in health that has the potential to transform the lives of South Africans. The trajectory of Wits University, which celebrates its Centenary in 2022, is tied to the success of South Africa, the continent and her people.