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MBBCh Curriculum Review Report

- Lisa Rautenbach

The interim task team for the MBBCh curriculum review completed their report in December.

The report was compiled to update the Faculty of Health Sciences community, in its widest sense, about developments regarding the review of the MBBCh programme.

The review process of the MBBCh curriculum was initiated in 2013 and a list of core competencies was formulated for the Wits graduate. A number of workshops were subsequently held and a revised curriculum was proposed early in 2016. As a result of a Faculty Board meeting in June 2016, additional consultations were added to facilitate further enrichment of the process of developing the revised curriculum and to ensure the buy-in of the students, Faculty staff and all stakeholders – who would have to drive and deliver the curriculum. These consultations were undertaken in September 2016.

The report captures the numerous points raised at these consultation sessions and therefore serves to further enhance the curriculum revision process. Points raised relate to the following areas:

Principles to be embedded in the revised curriculum

  • Structure of the revised curriculum
  • Content of the revised curriculum
  • Delivery/implementation of the revised curriculum
  • Student-centeredness of the curriculum
  • Extension of the teaching platform

The report highlights that the MBBCh curriculum review should:

  • be seen in the light of other Faculty imperatives eg. increasing the number of doctors in the country, increasing the exposure of students to primary health care, the need to review the current programme IPE
  • be informed by a vision – in terms of the kind of doctor we want to produce and also how learning should take place
  • be informed by a process of mapping the current curriculum to ensure horizontal and vertical integration of content
  • be done collaboratively and holistically to avoid biased departmental preferences

It is envisaged that consultations will be extended to include private practitioners, interns and staff of the Department of Health and will continue until March 2017.

Please  to access the report.

School of Clinical Medicine gets Neonatologist as Assistant Head of School

- Lisa Rautenbach

Associate Prof Daynia Ballot a lifelong Witsie, leading neonatologist and National Research Foundation C-2 rated researcher has been appointed as Assistant Head of School for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Paediatrics and Child Health, Family Medicine and Primary Care (Cluster C) in the School of Clinical Medicine as of 1 January 2017.

As Assistant Head of School she will be responsible for providing academic vision and leadership required to enable the Cluster and the School to establish and maintain a position of excellence within the University and in the wider educational context. This will involve the management of all academic activities inclusive of teaching and research at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, student related and all administrative matters within the School, including human resources, financial management and general administration.

Dr Ballot takes on the role from her previous position as Principal Specialist Paediatrician in the Neonatal Unit , Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) held from 2004. She will continue as Head of Project for Improving Neonatal Care (PRINCE), a new Research programme based at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH), which focusses on researching quality improvement in neonatal care in three areas – perinatal asphyxia, extreme prematurity and prevention of infection.

Inspired by her obstetrician mother to enter the health sciences, Dr Ballot found her calling in neonatology combining the best of being a physician while closely affiliated to Obstetrics.

Gaining her MBBCH from the Witwatersrand University in 1982, Dr Ballot started her career as an intern initially at Hillbrow Hospital, later a medical officer and then a Registrar in Pediatrics for Wits Faculty of Health Science. She then pursued and completed her PhD also at the Witwatersrand University in 1989, on iron nutrition. She went on to become a Research Registrar at the Neonatal Unit at the Johannesburg Hospital. In 1990 was admitted as a fellow of the College of Paediatricians of South Africa and registered as a subspecialist in Neonatology with Health Professions Council of SA in 1993. At Johannesburg Hospital she progressed to Specialist Paediatrician, then to Senior Specialist Paediatrician and later Associate Professor in Paediatrics in 2002.

Dr Ballot is invited on a regular basis to do pre- publication reviews for many local and international journals. She has also published 60 papers to date. 

Her volunteer work for the hospital and department of Paediatrics through the Wits Paediatric Fund has helped raised funds for more modern equipment for the Hospital. She has been awarded both the Wits Volunteer and Vice Chancellor’s Academic Citizenship awards for her community commitment.

When asked about the new appointment Dr Ballot said: “With the academic medicine focus of this position, I believe that I have the opportunity to develop research and teaching extensively in these three departments. I hope to foster increased research and postgraduate output through collaboration between the three departments.”

Human Databases and Biobanks For the Common Good

- Lisa Rautenbach

On the 22nd October 2016, the World Medical Association announced the approval of the "Declaration of Taipei" - new global ethical guidelines for physicians involved in the collection and use of identifiable health data and biological material in health databases and biobanks.

Prof Ames Dhai, HoD for Bioethics and Director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics played a significant part in the process by way of her appointment to the World Medical Association (WMA) Working Groups as a representative of the South African Medical Association for the Declaration of Taipei.

With rapidly increasing advances in science and technology health databases and biobanks in biomedical research and healthcare are being used extensively. However, the open and evolving nature of these storage facilities have resulted in ethical, legal and social complexities of a nature and magnitude not seen in the past and international policy guidance on the subject has been long anticipated.

 The process of developing the Declaration of Taipei took several years and included extensive consultations globally. Two rounds of consultations soliciting 116 . Eight workgroup meetings all over the world and six expert meetings took place.

These guidelines intended to help control the use of health data were significantly influenced by the team at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics. Aspects of the guidelines, specifically the ethics construct of the transfer agreement, developing world issues and participants in the developing world,  as well as the protection of the expiry of intellectual property and the importance of safe guards against biopiracy were the result of Prof Dhia and the teams careful and thoughtful consideration and expertise.

These guidelines are a milestone in achieving a balance between protecting individual rights over their tissues or data and scientific progress in biomedical research towards the common good.And the first concrete set of international policy guidelines providing ethical direction for the complex issues that arise with activities associated with human databanks and biobanks.

Precision medicine attracts growing interest

- Lisa Rautenbach

Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience will kick off the first three-day short course on Precision Medicine in Africa, on the 19 of February 2017.

The comparatively high cost of health care, the high burden of communicable and growing burden of non-communicable disease, and a sluggish economy continues to put pressure on the South African government to use available financial and human resources in the most effective manner.

The buzz about Precision Medicine and how it can be used to enhance clinical practise is growing locally. Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention, which couples established approaches with molecular profiling to create diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic strategies precisely tailored to each patient's requirements

According to Michèle Ramsay, professor in the Division of Human Genetics, and Director of the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience, a key indicator of the increased interest in precision medicine, is the number of funding opportunities which are growing significantly in the African context. However divergent understandings of precision medicine and a lack of resources and appropriate infrastructure to develop large research projects leave much of this funding opportunity untapped.

“Given this new wave of innovation in medicine, the Institute has a vital role to play in enabling precision medicine through research. Building capacity and resources in this area are critical. As a key initiative we have conceptualised and developed a short course in precision medicine to play a leading role in developing this capacity locally.” says Ramsay

Together with the Division of Human Genetics, the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience will kick off the first three-day short course on Precision Medicine in Africa, on the 19 of February 2017.

The course intends to introduce health professionals including clinicians, academic clinicians, dieticians, research investigators, postgraduate students & health related counsellors, and people working in the Health Industry to the concept of precision medicine and some of the issues related to developing a precision medicine agenda in Africa. It will highlight how an enhanced understanding of the human genome and its function could have an impact on modern clinical practice.

Register online at before 6 February. The venue for the short course is The Mount, 9 Jubilee Road, Parktown, Johannesburg. For more information: or 011 717 6631

Wits Alumnus leads the fight to stop Diabetes

- Lisa Rautenbach

Diabetes is emerging as a global health concern and at the helm of this wave of increased attention is a proud Witsie.

Dr Desmond Schatz, a 1979 MBBCh graduate, is the President of the American Diabetes Association and leads the fight to Stop Diabetes®. As Professor and Associate Chairman of Pediatrics, Medical Director of the UF Diabetes Institute, and Associate Director of the Clinical Research Center, at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he has been involved in Type 1 diabetes research since the mid 80s and has published over 260 manuscripts, the majority related to the prediction, natural history, genetics, immunopathogenesis and prevention of the disease, as well as the management of children and adolescents with Type 1 diabetes.

His presidential address to over 10,000 people in New Orleans in August 2017 speaks volumes to the fact that Wits graduates not only become global leaders in every field of endeavor but through their civic engagement work to make their communities better places. 

You can listen to Dr Desmond Schatz impassioned address entitled “ Diabetes at 212 degrees: Confronting an invisible disease” here :

Medical Ethics Celebrates 50 Years at Wits

- L. Rautenbach

The Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical) (HREC) first meet as an ethics committee in October 1966. This year it celebrates 50 years in existence.

In June 1966 Henry Beecher, an Emeritus Professor at Harvard University, published a shocking article in the New England Journal of Medicine on ethics and clinical research. The article described unethical research carried out by unnamed but prominent researchers and research bodies. At this time no ethical screening of research existed.

Catching the attention of a young Professor John Hansen, the head of paediatrics at Wits, the article sparked the formation of a research ethics committee at the University to screen human medical research studies. Initially called the Committee for Research on Human Subjects, it was the very first research ethics committee (REC) to be established in Africa and the first in the Southern Hemisphere, nearly two decades ahead other countries in that hemisphere.

Fifty years later, as the Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical) (HREC), it’s a Wits success story. Since its first meeting as an ethics committee in October 1966, starting at time when there were no South African guidelines for medical research review, it pioneered parameters for research review until the South African Medical Research Council ethics guidelines for medical research in 1979.

The Wits HREC committee, by virtue of its long-standing and highly experienced membership, steered its active leadership role in ethics in South Africa by way of multiple and diverse engagement. Members of the Wits HREC committee served on the Interim National Health Research Ethics Committee; the Wits HREC Chair and a co-Chair were on the editorial team of the first National Department of Health research ethics guidelines entitled: Ethics in health research: principles, structures and processes (2004); and the Wits Chair served on the Medical Research Council Ethics Committee as a member and later as the Chair. In addition, at the request of the Human Sciences Research Council, the Wits Chair formed the HSRC Ethics Committee, serving as its Chair for three years and now as a member.


Wits did not limit itself to just human medical research. The University constituted the Animal Ethics Screening Committee in 1975 and the Human Research Ethics Committee (Non-Medical) in 1988.

In 2014 a sub-committee, the Biobank Ethics Committee was formed within the HREC (Medical), because of the growth of biobanks worldwide. The Department of Health issued ethics guidelines in 2000 for clinical trials and in 2004 for general research.

With the introduction of the South African Constitution enshrining in the Bill of Rights that “everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity which includes the right…(c) not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent”, and the National Health it is a legal requirement to gain HREC approval prior to the start of research.

Professor Peter Cleaton- Jones, Chair of the HREC commented at the committee’s 50th anniversary event on Friday the 27 of January 2017, that over its 50 years the Wits HREC had played a key role in the medical ethics context,  has challenging foreign sponsors refusing  to pay compensation for patients, ferreting out fraudulent research and motivating for consequences for such lack of ethics, while developing the highest ethics standards possible for medical research undertaken by the Wits.

Today, housed within the Wits Health Consortium, which is a not-for-profit organisation and academic research vehicle, the Wits HREC (Medical) is the custodian of the ethics of hundreds of sponsored clinical trials.

Wits Health Sciences Students Stop to Respect the Dead

- L. Rautenbach

Health Sciences students at Wits undertake a dedication ceremony before their study of the human body begins.

On the 4th floor of the Health Sciences Building, in a vast laboratory-like room called a Dissection Hall, Professor Maryna Steyn, head of the School of Anatomical Sciences at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, welcomes more than three hundred health sciences students to a unique time-honored Wits tradition – the Cadaver Dedication Ceremony.

Wits is still one of the few universities in South Africa that practice full body human dissection, thanks to a successful body donation programme undertaken by the school. Bequests are made to the school for the furtherance of medical research and teaching for medical and therapeutic sciences' students. At the end of the year of dissection, the bodies are cremated and laid to rest in accordance with the donor or families wishes.

While the body donation programme uses precious resources in the school, that might otherwise be replaced by high-tech technology including virtual reality, it’s this the physical and emotional process of dissection that Professor Maryna Steyn, head of the School of Anatomical Sciences, feels makes for the ultimate teaching experience as well as a better engagement with the human patient in the long term.

Speaking at the ceremony, where some of the more than 100 body donations lie under white plastic sheeting, Prof Steyn highlights to students that these bodies once human beings, will be their first and most precious teacher. “Without these cadavers that we are honouring today, your studies of medicine and anatomy would not be possible. Please take the time to think about the body in front of you and all the bodies in this hall. Think about their beauty and the fact that they were created so perfectly. Never forget that these individuals were once living, breathing individuals; that just would still have been walking the streets, sharing loves and laughter, sharing lives with their families."

The cadaver will teach these young students many things - technical terms, medical terms, how the systems of the body connect and interrelate. But mostly says Prof Steyn - “ they will teach you about yourself and your capacity for compassion and respect”. While anatomy in this sense allows the opportunity for students to explore their own humanness, there is a very strict sense of the respect required for those deceased. Students undertake what they will wear, how they will behave in the hall and in the presence of these bodies and are reminded that how they treat this first patient will set a precedent for how the treat every patient in their journey to become health professionals.

To conclude this ceremony the students stand and collectively read The Student's Creed. Stopping to respect the dead, observing high codes of moral ethics and engendering patient compassion are key elements of Wits’ success in producing some of the finest health practitioners and scientists around the world.

PRICELESS SA Fiscal Policies Report Released

- L. Rautenbach

Priceless SA have released a new report entitled “Fiscal Policies for Population Health in South Africa”.

Priceless SA  has released a new report entitled “Fiscal Policies for Population Health in South Africa”, finding that policy-makers should consider fiscal interventions that target public health concerns. The report also shows that there is strong evidence for certain fiscal measures, including taxes and subsidies, to address health impacts and improve public health.

Professor Karen Hofman, director of Priceless SA, a co-chair of the secretariat that investigated various fiscal tools said that fiscal policies are powerful but often overlooked tools for improving population health and health equity.  “It is not a new strategy to use fiscal tools, but this report suggests that they could be used to much greater effect by saving lives, cutting costs, raising revenue and preventing a great deal of illness, and will help to contain the ballooning costs of health care and social grants.”

The report focuses on fiscal interventions that not only improve health outcomes but also have the remarkable potential to improve both public health and fiscal wellbeing, helping to alleviate the added fiscal burden of the impending National Health Insurance (NHI) programme.

Priceless SA reviewed a set of potential fiscal policy instruments that could tackle South Africa’s disease burden. The available tools considered include excise taxes, subsidies and income transfers. Taxes, such as those on alcohol and tobacco, present the opportunity to reduce the occurrence of behaviours responsible for lifestyle and non-communicable diseases. Other interventions considered include subsidies to reduce the economic burden of transportation on pregnant women and incentives for chronic disease treatment adherence.

Initial analyses of a selection of excise taxes studied in the report would, by themselves, reduce lives lost by hundreds of thousands over the next 30 years.  The preliminary evidence that fiscal measures – including taxes and subsidies – can improve health in the short term without relying either on additional budgetary allocations to Ministries of Health or on public health systems to work more efficiently as well as raise revenue, was also reported.

“These fiscal measures could thus help to reduce inequalities in health and contribute to progress towards meeting numerous Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets, including a reduction in premature mortality from NCDs, strengthen implementation of World Health Organisation recommendations on tobacco control and achieve universal health coverage,” Hofman adds.

Co-chairs of the panel, Kate O’Regan, a prior judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Leila Patel, Professor and Director of Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg, believe the report will make major contribution to the health and fiscal policy debates as to how best the vision may be achieved for improving the quality of life for all South Africans.



More about the Fiscal Policies for Population Health in South Africa Report

The Inquiry on Fiscal Policies for Health is an exploratory consultative research project to explore the potential uses of fiscal policy tools and interventions, ie taxes, to address and prevent disease and reduce the health burden in South Africa. Guided by an advisory expert panel drawn from academia, government and the private sector, the analysis and research for this report were conducted by a secretariat based at the University of Witwatersrand School of Public Health, with a parallel process led by Indian counterparts through the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy. Having a strong partner in the global South was valuable. South Africa and India are both middle-income countries embarking on universal health coverage, yet with limited fiscal space to raise additional revenue; similarly, each faces significant health challenges from industry-driven consumption of tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverages.


  • Karen Hofman, Professor and Director of PRICELESS SA
  • Aviva Tugendhaft, Deputy-Director
  • Nicholas Stacey, Health Economist
  • Aarika Sing, Administrator
  • Barry Brooke-Norris, Project Manager


  • Ramanan Laxminarayan, Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, Washington, D.C.
  • Evan Blecher, Health Economist, Health Economics Unit, University of Cape Town
  • Corné van Walbeek, Professor in Economics and Principal Investigator of the Economics of Tobacco Control Project, University of Cape Town
  • Stephen Tollman, Professor of Public Health and Director of MRC/WITS Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit, Agincourt, South Africa


  • Kate O’Regan, Prior Judge, Constitutional Court of South Africa
  • Leila Patel, Professor and Director of Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg


  • Iain Barton, MD Imperial Health Sciences
  • Mark Blecher, Chief Director for Health and Social Development - Treasury, South Africa
  • Shai’sta Goga, Economist and Senior Researcher, Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development SA
  • Alex van den Heever, Professor, Wits School of Governance
  • Trudi Makhaya, Independent economist, strategist and journalist
  • Elias Masilela, Executive Chairman, DNA Economics, Member NPC
  • Thulani Masilela, Outcomes facilitator: Health, Presidency, South Africa
  • Mary Metcalfe, Professor, Wits School of Governance, Prior MEC Education
  • Mark Orkin, Consultant in Public Sector Management, Prior CEO HSRC
  • Wessel Pienaar, Professor in the Department of Logistics - Transport, Stellenbosch University
  • Yussuf Saloojee, Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking
  • Ingrid Woolard, Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Professor in the School of Economics, UCT

Hippocratic Oath Lives On At Wits Health Sciences

- L.Rautenbach

More than 600 students undertook a modified Hippocratic Oath on Friday the 27th 2017.

The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest binding documents in history. And its content gives rise to one of the oldest rites of passage for health care professionals.  At Wits, this oath is undertaken as part of a solemn and significant event by all second-year health sciences students, along with students entering the Graduate Entry Medical programme and first-year dentistry students, as they begin clinical components of their training.

More than 600 students undertook a modified Hippocratic Oath on Friday the 27th 2017. Surrounded and supported by families and loved ones in a filled to capacity Linde Auditorium in Parktown, the ceremony outlined their professional responsibility as training health professions and asked them to pledge to uphold specific ethical standards. The oath taking ceremony engenders the continuation of the vital principles of the Hippocratic Oath – to  treat the sick to the best of one's ability, preserve patient privacy, and pass on the knowledge to the next generation, 

Assistant Dean: Teaching and Learning, Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, speaking at this event highlighted to students their how their growing knowledge of the human body and health would become an immense power,  and that with such power would come great responsibility. “Your patients will be your greatest teachers. They will encounter you in their deepest vulnerability, offering themselves completely to you. Your learning will be deeply inscribed on their bodies, mind and spirit. I urge you to treat their submission to you with deep reverence.”

The ceremony while a great tradition, helping fellow health sciences students bond over the moment and create university memories,  is undertaken as part of an extensive process of internalising the professional character required in the health professions sector.

The students undertake this Modified Hippocratic Oath:

As a student in the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, I do solemnly declare:
That I will not improperly divulge anything I may learn in my capacity as a student of Health Sciences.
That in my relations with patients, colleagues and others I will conduct myself with dignity as becomes a member of an honourable profession. And I further declare that I will be loyal to my University and will endeavour to promote its welfare and maintain its reputation.

Wits alum receives Valor in Educational Service Award

- L Rautenbach

Alan Richards, M.D., received the Valor in Educational Service Award at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’.

Wits Alum Alan Richards, M.D., received the Valor in Educational Service Award along with six fellow faculty members at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s (UNMC) first Academic Affairs Impact in Education Awards Ceremony on Feb. 10, in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A.

 Dr. Richards is an adjunct associate professor in the UNMC Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

 The award recognises volunteer, emeritus, or adjunct faculty whose daily service to learners exemplifies the spirit of outstanding teaching or clinical supervision.

 Richards earned his medical degree from Wits in 1966. He lives in Omaha currently.

Obituary for Professor Mario Altini

- L.Rautenbach

Leading Oral Pathologist, Professor Mario Altini passed away on Friday 10th of February 2017

Professor Mario Altini, Visiting Professor in the Department of Anatomical Pathology and well known Oral Pathologist in the School of Oral Health Sciences died on Friday the 10th of February.

Prof. Altini was uniquely dedicated to the study of Oral Pathology. After graduating BDS at Wits in 1973, he entered the Department as a Registrar, qualifying MDent in 1977. Under the tutelage of the late Professor Mervyn Shear, he rose to become Acting Head and Honorary Professor of the Department of Oral Pathology in 1984, and full-time Head in 1990. He held the post through to his official retirement in 2011 and was recognised internationally by the International Association of Oral Pathology with the distinction of an Honorary Life Membership.

 Prof. Altini taught his undergraduate and postgraduate students with empathy and encouragement, revealing for them the intricacies of Oral Pathology, which at that time was a fledgeling speciality in South Africa. His innate and infectious enthusiasm for the subject entranced many young budding dentists, and several elected to follow him into the discipline.

His influence on the field was immense with specialists trained in his Department moving on to hold senior positions in this and other institutions of higher learning. He was a Councillor of the International Association of Oral Pathologists, President of the South African Society of Oral Pathology and Microbiology, Executive member of the South Africa Society of Forensic Dentistry.

 His scientific contribution to the deeper understanding of oral lesions and tumours was significant and led to the University awarding him the distinction of the top degree. a DSc, in 2013. His publication list of more than 90 papers reflects the dedication to his work, which extended in 1981 with his appointment as an Honorary Consultant in Forensic Dentistry with the Department of Health.

During his tenure in Oral Pathology, Prof. Altini had a long and close relationship with the Department of Anatomical Pathology. This relationship continued to develop with all Oral Pathology registrars spending dedicated time in Anatomical Pathology as part of their post-graduate training requirements. Mario was also a major contributor to the academic programme in Anatomical Pathology, readily imparting his wealth of knowledge and depth of experience that he had acquired over the years.

Following his early retirement from the Department of Oral Pathology, he elected to return to the academic environment and in May 2013 he was appointed as Honorary Professor and then Visiting Professor in the Department of Anatomical Pathology.

 He was instrumental in helping to develop the research programme in the Department, including establishing the Departmental research forum. Mario’s mentoring skills came to the fore and he took technologists, medical scientists, registrars, consultants of all ages and temperament under his wing. A measure of his success and the legacy that he leaves is that many of these “students” are now supervising and mentoring in their own right.

 His students and his colleagues will remember Mario as a gentle man… and a gentleman, sincere and always approachable, kind and thoughtful.  He will be sadly missed by the Schools, the Hospital, the Faculty and the University.

 Our deepest sympathies are extended to his wife Gail, and family.

 A memorial service will be held for Prof. Altini on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at 10h00 at the Wits Club.

Biostatistician measures up as new Head of School of Public Health at Wits

- L.R

Associate Professor Tobias Chirwa has been appointed as Head: School of Public Health effective from 01 February 2017.

Prof. Chirwa is a seasoned academic, established public health researcher and biostatistician, with exceptional credentials in infectious disease epidemiology and more recently in non-communicable diseases. He has a special research interest in HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

He has served as Head, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at Wits for several years. Previously he was Research Fellow in Medical Statistics in the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He later progressed to work on the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s research projects in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Prof. Chirwa has contributed to over 50 peer-reviewed publications and has initiated and completed research with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Centre for Health Policy, MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), and Wits Health Consortium.

He has taken responsibility for more than 30 research projects as project statistician and he is also one of a handful of leading African researchers to receive major funding to establish relevant research and training programmes across the continent.

“As an exceptional academic and formidable biostatistician and researcher, Prof. Chirwa will play a key role in driving the Faculty’s strategic imperatives to develop and grow the Faculty’s capacity in public health education and research,” says Professor Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

 Prof. Chirwa intends to use his extensive network of colleagues and collaborations within the Africa region and overseas academic institutions to further strengthen the footprint of the School of Public Health.

 Prof. Chirwa will succeed Professor Leatitia Rispel, who will take up the SARChi Chair in research on the health workforce.

HIV vaccine fundi appointed Assistant Dean in Wits Health Sciences - See more at: https://www.wits.a

- L.R

Professor Maria Papathanasopoulos has been appointed Assistant Dean: Research and Postgraduate Affairs in the Faculty of Health Sciences from January 2017.

2016-11 - HIV vaccine fundi appointed Assistant Dean in Wits Health Sciences - Wits University

Papathanasopoulos directs the HIV Pathogenesis Research Laboratory in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology at Wits where she also lectures.

Papathanasopoulos is an established scientist who has built an exceptional reputation in the infectious diseases, bioinformatics, and virology fields. She has established world class laboratories that conduct innovative research on HIV-1 drug discovery and vaccine designs that are recognised at a national, regional and international level.

In the last eight years, she has completed research for the South African Strategic Health Innovation Platform, the South African HIV/AIDS Research and Innovation Platform, the National Research Foundation, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative Innovation Fund, the Carnegie Foundation, the Poliomyelitis Research Foundation and several others. 

“As an exceptional academic and ground-breaking scientist Professor Maria Papathanasopoulos will play a key role in driving the Faculty’s strategic imperatives to increase research intensity and build the reputation of the Faculty of Health Sciences as one of the world's most prestigious centres,” says Professor Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Prof. Papathanasopoulos says, “I am honoured and humbled to be given the opportunity to provide the leadership and stewardship to educate our future research leaders, undertake cutting-edge research and propose solutions to public health policy questions within an academic community that shares a passion for confronting health disparities in South Africa. I continually strive for excellence and pledge to transform my commitment into actions that lead the Faculty’s research and postgraduate portfolio towards meeting the strategic goals of the Faculty of Health Sciences and ensure that we continue as a world leader in both discovery and education.”


Wits cancer geneticist is A rated by the NRF

- LR

Wits Distinguished Professor Chris Mathew received the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) A rating.

Chris Mathew a Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience, and Professor of Molecular Genetics at King’s College London (UK) has received the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) A rating, bringing the number of Faculty of Health Sciences’ A-rated scientists to ten.

The NRF rating system is a key driver in the NRF’s aim to build a globally competitive science system in South Africa.

Mathew has made major contributions to the discovery of the genes involved in a range of monogenic and polygenic disorders, which have been recognised by his election as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, UK. He was also one of just four scientists named as a Highly Cited Researcher in 2015/16, which are authors with the most papers designated as Highly Cited Papers by the Essential Science Indicators (ESI). Highly Cited Papers rank among the top 1% most cited for subject field and year of publication.

Since joining the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience in February 2015, Prof. Mathew has been building a research group of postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students to develop an internationally competitive research programme on the genetics of African cancers while advancing research to identify the genes that cause cancer of the oesophagus, which is common among black African populations in South and East Africa.

Chris Mathew comments: “The burden of cancer in Africa is growing rapidly as our population grows and ages, with about 1.2 million cancer deaths annually predicted by 2035. We need a continuous expansion of our efforts in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and to train a new generation of scientists and clinical researchers to meet this challenge. Our recent very successful Wits Cancer Research symposium showcased the breadth and depth of cancer research at Wits, and I am very excited to be a part of our collective effort to grow research capacity in this important area.” 

Emeritus Professor Status Conferred on Wits Health Sciences' Professor Cooper

- L.R.

After nearly 40 years of service to the University of Witwatersrand, Professor Peter Cooper has been honoured with the status of Emeritus Professor  or his outstanding contribution to the University. 

Academic Head in the Department of Paediatrics at Wits, Professor Peter Cooper’s dedication to Paediatrics and Neonatology began in 1978 when he joined the Wits Department of Paediatrics as a registrar. After completing his registrar training he joined Prof Alan Rothberg as a neonatologist at the then Johannesburg Hospital becoming Head of the Unit in 1985. In 1988 he took over from Prof. Keith Bolton as Head of the Neonatal Unit at Baragwanath Hospital where he remained until 1995.  In April 1995 he was appointed Professor, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Wits and Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital CMJAH). In 2003 he was appointed Academic Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health until October 2016

Prof Cooper held a number of executive positions in South African paediatric and neonatal organisations, including : Immediate Past President of the Union of National Paediatric Societies and  Associations (UNAPSA),  UNAPSA representative on IPA Standing Committee 2007-2010,  Chairperson of  Scientific Committee for the 26th International Pediatric Association Congress of Pediatrics 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa , UNAPSA/IPA representative to the Partnership for Maternal, Neonatal and Child health and Countdown to 2015, a  Member of the Council of the College of Paediatricians of South Africa from 2003 to 2009,  Convenor and Examiner on numerous occasions for Part I & Part II of the examinations for the Fellowship of College of Paediatricians and  past Secretary of the South African Paediatric Association.

He also served on numerous University and Hospital committees and was Chairperson of the Medical Advisory Committee at CMJAH from 1998 to 2009. 

A passionate teacher, Cooper mentored many young paediatricians some of who are prominent today including Sithembiso Velaphi, Haroon Saloojee and Glenda Gray. His dedication to teaching was recognised across the Faculty and also won him the Convocation Distinguished Teacher’s Award and the Philip V. Tobias Medal for Distinguished Teaching in 1995.

He is author or co-author of over 70 publications in national and international peer-reviewed journals and author of several chapters in books, mainly neonatal and nutrition related and is also a reviewer for a number of local and international journals.

More recently Prof. Cooper was appointed as Chair the Clinical Steering Committee for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.  He will continue to make a significant impact of the paediatrics and neonatology at that hospital and in the Faculty.

The Faculty would like to thank Professor Cooper for his service and congratulates them on their Emeritus Professor appointment.


Santa Comes to Bara

- LR

Santa paid the paediatrics surgery ward of Chris Hani Baragwaneth Hospital an early visit.

Santa paid the paediatrics surgery ward of Chris Hani Baragwaneth Hospital an early visit – on 4 December 2016, the ward officially opened a brand new, innovative play area for children recovering from surgery in ward 32.

Their previously uninspiring play area outside the ward, just a dusty piece of ground usually out of bounds for the danger posed to young and healing children, was completely transformed into a play area boasting cool new astro grass, a mini cycle track with brand new bikes and scooters, a bubble pond and wonderful new jungle gym. Aside from the fun factor – the area has been designed with the rehabilitation of the children in mind.  

Under the watch of Professor Jerome Loveland, Academic Head for the Department of Paediatric Surgery (Wits), the doctors, nurses, the staff of Paediatric surgery went to extraordinary efforts to raise funds for their non-profit organisation - Surgeons for Little Lives ( By hosting a charity cycling event, an annual charity dinner event as well as soliciting of smaller donations by members of the community, they were able to raise almost a million rand to improve the hospital, wards and its surroundings. The new play area for Ward 32’s little patients amounted to around R390 000 of this, and in addition, a local restaurant chain donated the jungle gym worth R100 000.

To officially open the play area the team threw a fabulous pre- Christmas party attended by many of the cyclists, some of the board members, the hospital representatives and of course the children of ward 32.

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the third largest hospital in the World, has seen a 28% increase in admissions to general paediatric wards since 1992. Available resources are extremely limited and the level of care to patients in this large, overburdened state hospital is very basic. This means it takes longer for children to recover from surgery and complications are more likely to set in. That is why the care put into recovery and rehabilitation at ward 32 is so important for their physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Clearly, all the girls and boys of ward 32 had been very good in 2016!

Pharmaceutical Scientist to head Pharmacy and Pharmacology

- L.R

Prof. Yahya E. Choonara has been appointed Academic Head for the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology in the School of Therapeutic Sciences.

Prof. Yahya E. Choonara has been appointed Academic Head for the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology in the School of Therapeutic Sciences effective from 01 January 2017.

Prof. Choonara has 17 years’ service with the Faculty and was previously Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at Wits University. He is also a Senior Scientist and Research Manager at the highly productive Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP) Research Unit that is Directed by Prof. Viness Pillay.

Prof. Choonara succeeds Associate Prof Michael P. Danckwerts and will be responsible for maintaining the excellent standards of undergraduate teaching, increasing the postgraduate output and extending cutting edge research to all seven of the Department’s research areas.

“I am honoured to take up a leadership role in a Department which is ranked in the top 200 universities globally*. We strongly believe that pharmacists have a significant responsibility to undertake innovative pharmaceutical research, manage drug therapy, counsel on medication use, and monitor drug therapy outcomes. Our high calibre staff brings innovative research and clinical expertise into the lecture room to advance patient care and pharmaceutical research that can change the world we live in. I’m hoping to use my experience to build on the productivity within the Department, as well as instil the efficiency and passion for research” says Prof Choonara.

The Department is also ranked on par with the top three universities in the world for pharmacy and pharmacology research, according to the Elsevier’s Scopus database.

A true Witsie academic, Prof. Yahya E. Choonara graduated with a B.Pharm from Wits in 2002 and immediately entered the University as an Academic Intern in the Department. In 2004 he graduated cum laude with a Masters of Pharmacy. He progressed in this time to Associate Lecturer in pharmaceutics as well as completing his community service at the Charlotte Maxexe Academic Hospital. In 2006 he became Head of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Lecturer in the Department while pursuing his Doctorate in Pharmaceutics at Wits, which he completed in 2009.  

He works closely with other experts in the field and is a co-inventor of over 43 local and international patents in novel drug delivery technology. Prof. Choonara uses computational pharmaceutical algorithms – or PharMATHaceutics- to prototype optimised drug delivery technologies for treating various diseases/disorders. His latest research focuses on the concept of merging his in silico computational modelling theories to blueprint drug delivery technologies with ‘smart’ capabilities.

His research has been widely published with over 220 research publications all in highly reputable ISI recognised scientific journals with high impact factors in Pharmaceutics. He has also presented over 251 papers at peer-reviewed local and international conferences.

Prof. Choonara is currently an NRF-rated scientist, has an H-index of 26 and is a recipient of several prestigious awards that includes a National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Award and an AU-TWAS Young Scientist National Award in the category of Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation. He has co-supervised over 50 postgraduate students at the Masters, PhD and Postdoctoral levels to develop a pipeline of talent for the Department and the sector.

In 2015, Prof. Choonara was awarded a Fellowship by Higher Education South Africa (HESA) to complete training in Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM). He has also served as an Executive Board Member of the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences of South Africa (APPSA) and is currently a member of several prestigious academic and scientific organisations such as the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa (PSSA), the Controlled Release Society (CRS) (UK), the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) (USA), a Founding Board Member of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS), an elected affiliate to The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) (Italy).


Emeritus Professor Status conferred on Wits Health Sciences' Professor Manga

- LR

Professor Pravin Manga has been honoured with the status of Emeritus Professor for his outstanding contribution to the University.

After more than 40 years of service to the University of Witwatersrand, Professor Pravin Manga has been honoured with the status of Emeritus Professor for his outstanding contribution to the University. 

Academic Head of Internal Medicine, Professor Pravin Manga, spent the majority of his 40 years post qualification in the public service. He completed his internship at the then Coronation Hospital and subsequently did his Registrar training in internal medicine at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

He was attracted to cardiology and gained a fellowship position to train at Tulane University in the United States of America. On his return to South Africa, he was appointed Head of Cardiology at the Hillbrow Hospital. With a passion for interventional cardiology, he completed his PhD in this area, pioneered the first program of balloon valvuloplasty for the treatment of rheumatic mitral stenosis in the country and became an international expert on this subject.

In 1995 he was appointed Chief Specialist, Professor and Academic Head of Cardiology and later Academic Head of the Department of Internal Medicine in the School of Clinical Medicine until his retirement in 2016. In this time he was known for running a patient focused unit, launching the only 24-hour cardiac cath lab service in a public hospital in South Africa.

He has had the distinction of being the past President of the South African Cardiac Society and still serves/ served on the board of the South African Heart Association. His research focused on valvular and ischaemic heart disease and he still serves as the Deputy Editor of the Journal of American College of Cardiology, the number one rated cardiovascular journal in the world.

Prof Manga will continue to pursue his research interests and teaching; staying on in the Division of Cardiology. In addition, he will also start a new journal for the School of Clinical Medicine.

The Faculty would like to thank Professor Manga for his service and congratulates him on his Emeritus Professor appointment.

Doctor Olufemi Babatunde Omole appointed Academic Head of Family Medicine

- L.R

Doctor Olufemi Babatunde Omole was appointed Academic Head for the Division of Family Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine.

Doctor Olufemi Babatunde Omole has been appointed Academic Head for the Division of Family Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine (effective from 01 January 2017).

Dr Omole was Head of Clinical Unit (Family medicine) in the Sedibeng District Specialist Team and joint academic appointment with Wits since 2006. He has more than 22 years of experience in public service, 18 of which have involved academic teaching. His knowledge of health systems in peri-urban settings and extensive experience of the peripheral teaching sites will be invaluable as the Faculty extends the teaching platforms and grows the speciality of Family Medicine.

 He will be responsible for the academic programmes in Family medicine – both undergraduate and postgraduate, including BHSc, the GEMP 1 to 4 and MMed / Registrar programmes, across the 7 districts in Gauteng and North West provinces.

 “I am excited to play a leadership role in the Faculty in terms of the evolution of Family Medicine as a new speciality in South Africa. My experience is firmly embedded in the history of this speciality and I hope to use my academic knowledge, specifically in terms of the training, to shape what Family Medicine becomes.”


As an active member of the South African Academy of Family Practice and the College of Family Physicians (SA), Dr Omole is keen to play an advocacy role more broadly. “The kind of family practitioners we will be producing is so important. They must be clinically astute and very skilled to handle the clinical interface, right from the home of the patient through the community, to the primary healthcare system. It is our role to help our students become “generalist specialist” as they switch between patients and adapt to the community settings.

Dr Omole’s career in Family Medicine and public service serves as an example to any aspiring Family Medicine student. He graduated MBBS in 1989 from the College of Medicine, University of Lagos and completed a postgraduate Diploma in Anaesthesia degree from the same university in 1994. In 1996, he enrolled in the postgraduate training in Family Medicine at the Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA) and qualified by examination, the Membership of the College of Family Physicians of South Africa [MCFP(SA)] in May 1998 and Masters of Medicine in Family medicine[MMed] from MEDUNSA in 2002.

 Dr Omole began his career in South Africa as a Senior Medical Officer in January 1995 at Letaba Hospital. In 1998, he became a Principal Medical Officer in the same hospital, in a joint appointment with MEDUNSA as a Part-Time lecturer. Here he was involved with full-time undergraduate teaching in Family Medicine and primary care at Shiluvana unit of the Department of Family Medicine at MEDUNSA. In April 2003, he was appointed Senior Specialist Family Physician and Senior Lecturer at Polokwane Hospital and MEDUNSA and progressed quickly to become Principal Specialist / District Family Physician in Mopani District of Limpopo Province in November 2003. In October 2006, he transferred to Gauteng province as the District Family Physician and Principal Specialist in Sedibeng District. In this role, he took over the clinical and academic leadership in the district, establishing the Sedibeng District training complex in Family medicine. This complex caters for the fully accredited GEMP4, BCMP, Internship and MMED training programmes.

In terms of research, Dr Omole intends to see an increase in translational and implementation research within the community context, as it is encouraged and supported by the Faculty.  His own research interest has spanned the areas of tobacco use and health, quality of clinical care of chronic diseases of lifestyle in primary healthcare, the health system, psychosocial aspects of medicine and anaesthesia in general practice. He has authored or co-authored 23 scientific articles in South African and international journals and conducts editorial reviews for a number of journals including the South African Family Practice Journal and the African Journal of Primary Care and Family medicine. “Translation and context-based research doesn’t just happen at the central academic facilities, it is needed in the peri-urban extended training platforms too,” concludes Dr Omole.

Celebrating Outstanding Research in Physiology

- L.R

Helen Laburn Research Prize awarded Professors Andrea Fuller and Angela Woodiwiss, for their remarkable achievements in scientific research.

Professor Helen Laburn served a remarkable three decades with the Faculty of Health Sciences. She was Head of the School of Physiology between 2000 and 2006, then become Dean of the Faculty until 2010, after which she served the University as Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research.

Her passion for research and the resultant drive to promote it is reflected in a lasting legacy at the Faculty – in the Helen Laburn Research Prize. This is an annual award given for outstanding research performance in the School of Physiology over the previous two years. On Friday the 24th of February this award was jointly made to Professors Andrea Fuller and Angela Woodiwiss, for their remarkable achievements in scientific research.

Both recipients were individually inspired by Prof. Helen Laburn. In Professor Andrea Fuller’s case, it was Helen’s passion for research that triggered her illustrious career in science. During her Honours year, Prof Laburn taught the students research methodology, with “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!”  being compulsory reading; “The introduction to that curious character is etched on my mind as a factor influencing my choice to pursue an academic career”. Prof Laburn also was a core member of the Brain Function Research Group, where she influenced the early career development of Prof. Fuller and many other emerging researchers.

 Now the director of the Brain Function Research Group, Prof Fuller has authored 20 publications and graduated 4 higher degree students, amongst other achievements, in the last two years. The focus of her current research is the physiological capacity of terrestrial mammals to cope with predicted effects of climate change. Her research interests also include game capture physiology and pharmacology, and the relationship between brain and body temperature regulation in mammals. Prof Fuller is the Chair of the Section on Thermal Physiology, International Commission of Comparative Physiology of the International Union of Physiological Sciences and an NRF rated B3 researcher.

By contrast, Prof Woodiwiss the co-director of the Cardiovascular Pathophysiology and Genomics Research Unit didn’t get to meet Prof Laburn until she left physiotherapy clinical practice to join the then Department of Physiology and pursue her research full time. “Prof. Laburn’s passion for science and research was indelibly applied across the school.  It infiltrated everything and I am grateful that my career has been imbued with this thinking”.

Prof. Woodiwiss undertakes research in hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Over the years, she has explored the role of various cardiovascular risk factors and their impact on target organs (heart, brain, kidney and vasculature). Her current focus is on the measurement and effects of aortic pressure on cardiovascular diseases. Over the last two years, she has authored 23 publications as well as graduated 3 higher degree students, in addition to other academic achievements. Prof Woodiwiss was recently elected as the President of the Hypertension Society of Southern Africa and she currently holds an NRF B2 rating.

“Both Professors Fuller and Woodiwiss are a true credit to the research community at Wits. They have demonstrated how teamwork and collaboration are key to achieving successful research careers,” said Prof. Willie Daniels, Head of the School of Physiology.

The Helen Laburn Research Prize was created in honour of Professor Helen Laburn who passed away in 2014, to celebrate and honour her invaluable and special contribution to creating an environment in which research excellence can thrive.

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics hosts Ethics Alive Week 2017

- L.R.

Ethics Alive 2017, a week-long programme of debates and discussions exploring issues of ethics, law and human rights in healthcare kicks off on 13 March 2017.

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics and the Faculty of Health Sciences are hosting Ethics Alive 2017, a week-long programme of debates and discussions exploring issues of ethics, law and human rights in healthcare practice.  The week will run from Monday 13 to Friday 17 March 2010. 

Central to the week are discussions around the issue of transformation –as it relates to health professionals and the role they play in society, the healthcare system and more broadly in the context of the overall wellness of society.

The highlight of the programme is the 2017 Ethics Alive Symposium being held on Wednesday, 16 March 2010 at 17:30 at Constitutional Hill. This symposium is themed "Transformation: Is it a Bitter Pill to Swallow"

The key speakers at the Symposium are Dr Freda Lewis-Hall, Global pharma Company Exec who has defied race and gender -  previous political exilist and staunch patient rights advocate UCT - Emeritus Professor Dan Ncayiyana and national and Black Consciousness advocate and Executive Trustee of the Steve Biko Foundation - Mr Nkosinathi Biko as speakers.

Prof. Ames Dhai, Director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics commented: “This event is being held at a crucial time in the history of healthcare in the country. The Symposium will address pertinent issues that are currently impacting healthcare practice. The activities are just ahead of  Human Rights Day – an appropriate time for the reflection, discussion and debate during the week”.


Ethics Alive Week Programme: 13- 17 March 2017


13 March

18h00 –19h00

Max Price Lecture Room, Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre

Keeping Out of Trouble When Trouble Comes A Calling

By Dr Graham Howarth (Medical Protection Society)


14 March

13h00 – 14h00

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital – Medtronic Lecture Theatre

Keeping Out of Trouble When Trouble Comes A Calling

By Dr Graham Howarth (Medical Protection Society)


15 March

08h00 – 09h00

Large Boardroom, Helen Joseph Hospital

Keeping Out of Trouble When Trouble Comes A Calling

By Dr Graham Howarth (Medical Protection Society)


15 March

11h00 –


Undergraduate Symposium, Faculty of Health Sciences,  Public Health Auditorium

The Place for Alternative Medicine in Health Sciences Training


15 March

15h00 – 16h00

Len Miller Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Health Sciences

Keeping Out of Trouble When Trouble Comes A Calling

By Dr Graham Howarth (Medical Protection Society)


16 March

12h00 – 13h00

Auditorium, Sterkfontein Hospital

Keeping Out of Trouble When Trouble Comes A Calling

By Dr Graham Howarth(Medical Protection Society)


16 March

17h30 –


The Main Symposium, The Women’s Goal, Constitution Hill

Transformation: Is it a Bitter Pill to Swallow?


  • Dr Freda Lewis-Hall
  • Professor Dan Ncayiyana
  • Mr Nkosinathi Biko


17 March

08h00 – 09h00

Neurosciences seminar room, Area 458/21, Green Block, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital

Keeping Out of Trouble When Trouble Comes A Calling

By Dr Graham Howarth(Medical Protection Society)

Faculty of Health Sciences Celebrates Academic Lives of Excellence

- LR

The Faculty hosted the first prestigious “Celebrating Academic Lives of Excellence” event to honoured Emeritus Professors Kramer and Gray.

The first prestigious “Celebrating Academic Lives of Excellence” event was held on Tuesday the 28th February 2017 to honour Emeritus Professors Beverley Kramer and David Gray.


Emeritus Professor Beverley Kramer has been a staff member at Wits for over 45 years, and delivered an address entitled “Leadership and integrity in scholarship: learning from the past, planning for the future”.  The address, based on her own experience and from observations of many different kinds of leaders which she has observed over her academic career at Wits and also in the international arena, dealt with the complex question of what makes an effective, fair and commendable academic leader. In addition, Professor Kramer drew on examples from the popular and academic press to illustrate violations in research integrity, such as parasitic authorship, falsification of data and “ghost” writing, amongst others. As there has been an increase in these breaches in the Faculty of Health Sciences over time, Professor Kramer suggested that we should engage with postgraduate students and staff to ensure that they are suitably informed.  She emphasized the need to strive for excellence and integrity at all times.  Professor Kramer concluded her lecture with a quote from US President Dwight Eisenhower: “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity”.


Emeritus Professor David Gray has been a staff member at Wits since 1994, and presented “Reflections on the job of an academic physiologist at Wits: has it changed in the past 25 years?” Although he entertained the idea of talking about his football club (Newcastle United), the academic in him won and he described how the academic aspects of teaching and research in physiology have changed over time. Despite increasing undergraduate and postgraduate student numbers, increased staff workload and changes in student preparedness, the average pass rates remained constant over time. Course content and its clinical application haven’t changed, but the way in which physiology is taught has changed. Professor Gray noted that academics have to be aware of the need to be pedagogically astute, and up to date with the latest teaching methods and technology. Research was always an expectation in the Physiology department, but over time has shifted to more clinical, less “basic” research, being conducted in collaborative groups. Access to information is now technology driven and he humorously reminded us of interlibrary loans and reprint request cards.  Professor Gray cautioned against “remote control physiology”, particularly the loss of animal experimentation skills.  He concluded that there are new challenges to carrying out physiology research, so academics have to work smarter.


Following the presentations, the current Heads of Schools of Anatomical Sciences and Physiology, Professors Maryna Steyn and William Daniels, presented the two Emeritus Professors with replicas of the “One-Two-Three” sculpture by Professor Laurence Anthony Chait. Professor Chait, who is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery, is not only a highly skilled and dedicated plastic surgeon but also an internationally renowned artist. Chait was commissioned by the Faculty to create the magnificent bronze  “One-Two-Three”, which now resides in the Phillip V. Tobias Health Sciences Building. The bronze echoes the Faculty of Health Sciences vision of family and community.


Addressing Health Inequities: Whose responsibility is it?

- D.H

The School of Public Health Initiates an Annual Healthy Inequity Lecture

In the inaugural lecture on Health Equity on 23 February 2017, Sir Michael Marmot argued that social injustice is the greatest threat to global health, and that government, academics and other members of civil society have an important role to play in addressing societal imbalances in power, money, and resources that work against health equity. The lecture, established as part of the Sheiham Family/Wits Programme on Social Determinants of Health and Health Inequality, was held during a two-day joint conference organised by the Wits School of Public Health (SPH) in collaboration with the South African Medical Association (SAMA).

Around 150 national and international delegates attended the conference. Health inequity, a broad concept that refers to disparities in health that are consequences of systemic, avoidable and unjust social and economic policies and practices that create barriers to opportunity was the main theme of the conference. A wide range of topics covered at the conference  included: progress and challenges in combatting health inequities, the role of health professional associations and policy makers in addressing the social determinants of health and advocacy and action needed to ensure that social determinants of health are prioritized in South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world, the burden of non-communicable and communicable disease, decolonising health sciences education and constitutional obligations in addressing health inequities and moving towards universal health coverage.

The conference precedes the start of the Sheiham family/Wits research programme on social determinants of health and health inequities at the SPH, which will include inter alia, provision of PhD fellowships, and participation in a broad research programme on strengthening the evidence on health inequities and strategies to address these.

Public Health PhD Graduate Receives Scholarship with Harvard

- L.R.

Dr Soter Ameh, a Wits School of Public Health PhD graduate, was selected for the Bernard Lown Scholars Program at Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr Soter Ameh, a Wits School of Public Health  PhD graduate from the  MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit Agincourt, supervised by  Professor Steve Tollman, has been awarded a scholarship to Harvard.Has was selected as a Lown Scholar with the Bernard Lown Scholars Program in Cardiovascular Health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Previously Dr Ameh won the first prize for the oral presentation in the Faculty of Health Sciences and the second prize for the Cross-Faculty oral presentation at the Cross-Faculty Symposium which was held in March 2016.

The Lown Scholars Program was established in honour of Dr Bernard Lown, a world-renowned cardiologist and activist, whose career has advanced public health globally.  The Program is designed to create an international cadre of talented health professionals who will use public health tools and strategies to prevent cardiovascular diseases and promote cardiovascular health in developing countries, as defined by the United Nations.

Since its establishment in 2008, The Lown Scholars Program has supported the work of more than two dozen Lown Scholars from Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.   The program has identified three topical areas of priority for 2017, including cardiovascular health in urban poor, universal primary healthcare and health inequities and psychosocial stress and cardiovascular disease

Lown Scholars are invited to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston to take two courses during the  U.S. Summer 1 term (July 6th to 28th, 2017) and to stay for a one-week workshop after the end of the term (through August 4th) to develop a research proposal with their mentors.

Dr Ameh will conduct a study on an integrated chronic care model for HIV and cardiovascular health in Nigeria using his research grant of USD 50,000.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems in the Health Sciences

- LR

Second “Discerning Dialogue” of 2017, facilitated by Doctor Femi Otulaja.

The second Discerning Dialogues discussion will be facilitated by Doctor Femi Otulaja, who is a founding member and President of the African Association for the Study of
Indigenous Knowledge Systems(AASIKS).

Femi was educated in the USA, earning his BS and MS degrees in Animal Science from Pennsylvania State University, MA degree in Science Education from
New York University, and PhD in Urban Science Education from the City University of New York.

 He is currently an Academic Advisor at the Science Teaching and Learning Centre in the Faculty of Science, at WITS, however, he has had a varied career in science and science teaching. His job descriptions range from laboratory animal handling in the pharmaceutical industry to heading up the research and development unit at the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy (MILL).

Throughout his career, he has been a fervent advocate for outreach programmes, mentoring and assistance for disadvantaged students, and has championed the teaching and learning of science in these groups. One of his present research interests involves the socio-cultural understanding of science and mis/alignment with indigenous knowledge systems and integration into classroom science.

Femi will discuss indigenous knowledge systems in relation to Health Sciences Teaching, expanding the discussion begun in this series concerning decolonising our curriculum.


Venue: Adler Museum of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, 7 York Road.

Date: Wednesday,22nd March 2017

Time: 14h00 to 16h00

Faculty of Health Sciences hosts Symposium on TB Elimination

- L.R

Faculty Symposium on TB Elimination to be held on Thursday 23 March 2017

The Faculty of Health Sciences and the Office of Research & Postgraduate Affairs will host a Symposium for Interdisciplinary Research for TB Elimination to profile the work being done at Wits to eliminate, treat and better understand the disease.  The Symposium is being held to commemorate World TB Day on 24 March 2017.

Wits researchers have made significant inroads in understanding more about TB. Most recently researchers from DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB research (CBTBR) at Wits published landmark studies revealing profound insights into the way the TB mycobacteria grows and mutates and greater insight into the complexity of successful treatment in tuberculosis patients.

Professor Bavesh Kana, Co-Director DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research will present these studies as part of his talk entitled: " Can we find all the bacteria?". He will be joined by several other researchers and clinicians who are experts in their fields.

The symposium will be held on Thursday 23 March 2017  at 17h30 for 18h00 at The Adler Museum of Medicine. RSVP to




Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi  DVC : Research &

Maria Papathanasopoulos, Assistant Dean: Research and Postgraduate Affairs

Symposium opening

Prof. Lesley Scott in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology

TB and Big Data Analysis

Dr Neil Martinson, Deputy Executive Director of Perinatal HIV Research Unit

HIV and TB

Prof. Bavesh Kana Co-Director DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research

Can we find all the bacteria?

Puleng Marokane , Program Manager at NHLS

Implementation of GeneXpert

Dr Nokuphiwa Mvuna; Sub-investigator at Clinical HIV Research Unit(Wits Health Consortium).

Drug resistant TB: NIX and STREAM trials.

Salome Charalambous , Research Director Aurum Institute(tbc)

TB in congregate settings

Prof. Claire Penn, Professor of Speech Pathology & Audiology

Communication and TB: The missing link in the chain of care.

Fetal Medicine Specialist to head Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

- L.R.

Adjunct Professor Hendrik Lombaard has been appointed Academic Head for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the School of Clinical Medicine.

Adjunct Professor Hendrik Lombaard has been appointed Academic Head for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the School of Clinical Medicine effective from 01 March 2017. Prof. Lombaard takes on the leadership role in addition to continuing as Head of Department: Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, where he was appointed Adjunct Professor University of Witwatersrand in 2015.

In his time at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, with the department delivering 13000 babies a month, Lombaard made significant strides in improving maternal care. He established an accredited Maternal and Fetal Medicine training unit, initiated invasive fetal medicine, established a second genetic counselling clinic and developed a close working relationship with the Department of Human Genetics of the NHLS.

“I am honoured to take up a leadership role in the School and hope to play a significant role in building the competency and collaboration of the Obstetrics and Gynecology staff across all three hospitals. Refining the quality of care delivered to the patients and improving the experience of patients when they have contact with the hospitals is the primary concern and opportunity. I plan to focus on staff development to improve outcomes for mothers,” says Prof.  Lombaard. 

 In addition, he sees a great need for research in Obstetrics and Gynecology to be strengthened, particularly as the clinical setting is a context and data rich environment for research in a range of diverse topics from maternal death to the microbiome. Prof. Lombaard is also geared towards establishing and extending research collaboration with Leuven and the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam and the University of Pretoria.

 The son of a GP, Prof. Lombaard, chose to study in the health professions and graduated with his MBCHB from the University of Pretoria in 1997. He completed his internship at Jubilee Hospital in the Norwest and his community Service in Kgapane Hospital in Limpopo. In 2003 he completed his MMed from the University of Pretoria and became a Fellow of the South African College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the same year. After which he was appointed as Consultant at the Kalafong Hospital and Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pretoria. During this time he had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the esteemed Prof.  Peter Soothill from the University of Bristol, who discussed the future of fetal medicine. This presentation was the spark to his passion for fetal medicine.

 In 2005 he was awarded a University of Bristol (UK) three months fellowship for training in fetal medicine and studied in the maternal and fetal unit at the St Michael’s Hospital fetal medicine under Prof Soothill. Returning to South Africa to again work at the Kalafong Hospital he was promoted to Senior Specialist and Senior Lecturer.

 In 2007 he joined the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria as a senior specialist and senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria. He began private practice as a Fetal Medicine Specialist in tandem in 2008. In 2011 he was invited by Katholieke Universiteit van Leuven in Belgium for a fellowship in training for advanced fetal interventions. On return, he took up the leadership of the Obstetrics Clinical Unit at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital and Senior Lecturer with the University Pretoria until 2015. He was appointed Adjunct Professor at the University of Pretoria in January 2015

Towards the end of 2015,  Prof.  Lombaard joined Wits as Head of Department for Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital and was appointed Adjunct Professor at the University.

 One of the interesting projects he has worked on with Wits School of Public Health on is a research project to better understand the experience of patients in the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Rahima Moosa. With several media reports over the past few months on this issue of ill-treatment of patients, he is part of a group of concerned academics who would like to better understand the problem and implement appropriate strategies to improve this.

He has also been instrumental in piloting the extension of the academic teaching platform and has been involved with the initial GEMP 3 students going to Leratong Hospital during their Obstetrics rotation.

Prof. Lombaard has been registered with the HPCSA as a maternal and Fetal Medicine Specialist since 2007.  He has several local society memberships and is a member of the International Society of Obstetric Medicine as well as the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Recently he has been invited to take up the editorship of Clinical Obstetrics a South African perspective

Wits Researchers Publish Landmark Study in TB

- L.R.

Wits researchers have made significant inroads in understanding more about Tuberculosis, publishing a landmark study.

Wits researchers have made significant inroads in understanding more about Tuberculosis (TB). The Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research (CBTBR) at the University of the Witwatersrand has published a landmark study that advances the fundamental understanding of TB.

This study reveals profound insights into the way TB mycobacteria grow and adapt and sheds light on the complexity of successful treatment in patients with TB.

In this study, Wits scientists interrogated the presence and variance of “sleeping-state” M. tuberculosis bacteria in the sputum of TB patients. The research, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, provides anecdotal evidence pointing to the presence, in sputum, of what the researchers term “differentially culturable tubercle bacteria” – “sleeping organisms”.

This intriguing observation was interrogated in a cross-sectional observational cohort of patients infected with TB or TB-HIV, from various clinics in Soweto. The research team was able to detect five operationally distinct sub-classes of tubercle bacteria in the sputum of TB patients already diagnosed with TB. This indicates a previously unappreciated degree of complexity in the prevailing bacteria in individuals suffering from this disease.

These sub-populations are expected to respond differentially to TB therapy and they most likely form the microbiological basis for the protracted six-month treatment required to achieve a functional cure in TB patients.

Sputum from TB-HIV-1 infected individuals, with CD4 counts >200 cells/mm3, displayed higher levels of “sleeping state” organisms than sputum from TB-HIV-1 infected individuals with CD4 counts <200 cells/mm3 suggesting that the immune response is critically related to these populations of bacteria.

In addition, the detection of these “sleeping state” organisms allowed for the diagnosis of tubercle bacteria in patients who are conventionally difficult to diagnose using the standard suite of tests for TB detection. As a result, these new methods developed by Wits researchers provide exciting future avenues for TB diagnostic development, with the ultimate goal of being able to reach, diagnose and treat every TB patient. No patients missed!


Chengalroyen MD, Beukes GM, Gordhan BG, Streicher EM, Churchyard G, Hafner R, Warren R, Otwombe K, Martinson N, Kana BD. Detection and Quantification of Differentially Culturable Tubercle Bacteria in Sputum from Patients with Tuberculosis. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Dec 15;194(12):1532-1540. PMID: 27387272

Medical research pioneer named amongst the most influential people in the world by TIME

- Lisa Rautenbach

South African medical research pioneer listed as 1 of the 100 most influential people in the world

TIME named Glenda Gray to the 2017 TIME 100, its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.  The full list and related items will appear in the May 1, 2017 issue of TIME, which will be available on newsstands on Friday, April 21, and immediately on


A Wits Alum, Gray graduated in 1986 (MbbCh) from the University of Witwatersrand and in 1992 qualified as a paediatrician from the College of Medicine South Africa.  Internationally acclaimed for her work in HIV research, Gray has broken new boundaries, redefined scientific excellence and pioneered ground breaking medical research that has shaped global communities and saved lives. 


“Placing people at the centre of health research is the fuel for ensuring impact”, says Professor Glenda Gray, currently serving her term as President & CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). 


While at the helm of the country’s medical research council, the custodian for health research in South Africa and globally known for its strategic impetus to respond to South Africa’s burden of disease, Gray also chairs the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases to lead research collaborations on chronic diseases worldwide.  Her leadership style has enabled the SAMRC to acquire three consecutive clean audits, redirect resources to invest significantly in research in historically under resourced universities and elevate the research agenda to build the next generation of black medical scientists in the country.


Gray’s story over the years is nothing shy of dedication, commitment and passion to address health issues that have and still affect South Africans.  In 1996, together with James McIntyre, she co-founded the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (HPRU) based in Soweto where they developed a world renowned unit focused on HIV prevention and treatment.  In 2002, in a country whose government propagated AIDS denialism and denied HIV infected women antiretroviral drugs (ARV’s) to prevent transmission to their babies, Gray and McIntyre were awarded the Nelson Mandela Health & Human Rights Award for their work in response to this challenge. 


Globally the medical community took note of their work and in 2003, in recognition for their research and advocacy done to bring lifesaving antiretroviral therapy to mothers and people in need, Gray and McIntyre received the “Heroes in Medicine” award from the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC).


 One of the highest orders in South Africa, the Order of Mapungubwe, was bestowed by the President on Gray for her life saving research in mother to child transmission of HIV that changed the lives of mothers and their children and served the interests of South Africans. Since then Gray has been on a trajectory that has led her to become an internationally recognized leader in global health.       


In the mid- 2000’s Gray saw that the only path to an AIDS free generation would be in the development of potent biomedical interventions.  She thus turned her attention to HIV vaccine research, believing it was critical to ending the HIV epidemic, and focused her research to investigating potential HIV vaccine candidates.  As, the Co-Principal Investigator (PI) of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), an international network that conducts over 80% of the clinical trials of candidate HIV vaccines globally, she provides leadership at a Global Level with the HVTN PI, Larry Corey, and Co-PI, Scott Hammer.


Most notably, she spearheaded the clinical development of the South African AIDS Vaccine initiative’s HIV vaccines, the SAAVI DNA/MVA candidates and conducted the first trial using these candidate vaccines in South Africa and the United States. In November 2016, an ambitious programme was announced to evaluate an HIV vaccine regimen in South Africa that, if successful, could be the first HIV vaccine to be licensed globally. Gray and her team, are leading this trial, HVTN 702, the first HIV vaccine efficacy trial in seven years. 


The TIME Magazine list, now in its fourteenth year, recognizes the world’s most influential individuals. As TIME Editor-in-Chief Nancy Gibbs has said of the list in the past: “Each year our TIME 100 list lets us step back and measure the forces that move us…. One way or another they each embody a breakthrough: they broke the rules, broke the record, broke the silence, broke the boundaries to reveal what we're capable of,” says TIME Editor-in-Chief Nancy Gibbs

Wits researchers discover genetic mutation responsible for rare skin disease in Afrikaners

- Lisa Rautenbach

Sydney Brenner Insitute for Molecular Bioscience Makes Breakthrough Discovery

Researchers at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience and the Division of Human Genetics at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), together with their collaborators in Europe, the USA and Canada, have discovered the genetic mutation that causes the rare skin disease keratolytic winter erythema (KWE), or ‘Oudtshoorn skin’ in Afrikaners. This research was published in the May issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

KWE causes a redness of the palms and soles with consecutive cycles of peeling of large sections of thick skin, often exacerbated during winter months. Oudtshoorn refers to the town in the Western Cape province of South Africa where the disorder was present in large families.

 Afrikaners are Afrikaans-language speakers descended from predominantly Dutch, German and French settlers who arrived in South Africa the 17th and 18th centuries. Afrikaners have a high risk for several genetic disorders, the best known being familial hypercholesterolaemia (inherited high cholesterol leading to heart attacks early in life) and porphyria (sensitivity of the skin to ultra-violet exposure and adverse reactions to specific drugs).

 These disorders are common because of founder mutations brought to South Africa by small groups of immigrants who settled in the Cape of Good Hope and whose descendants are now spread throughout the country. Keratolytic winter erythema is a one of these less well-known founder genetic disorders.

 KWE was first described as a unique and discrete skin disorder in 1977 by Wits dermatologist, Professor George Findlay. He noticed that it occurred in families and had a dominant mode of inheritance – i.e., on average, if a parent has the condition about half the children inherit it in every generation.

In addition to identifying the genetic mutation for scientific purposes, this research now enables dermatologists to make a definitive diagnosis of KWE in patients. It further enables researchers to understand similar skin disorders and is a starting point for developing possible treatments.

Gene Mutations


Since the late 1980s, three MSc and three PhD students at Wits researched the disorder, firstly under the supervision of Professor Trefor Jenkins and from about 1990 by Professor Michèle Ramsay, Director and Research Chair, Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience. In 1997 Wits MSc student, Michelle Starfield, and a group in Germany mapped the KWE trait to a region on the short arm of chromosome 8. The researchers showed that it was likely that the South African families all had the same mutation, but that the German family had a different mutation. This research preceded the sequencing of the human genome and subsequent research focused on characterising this region of the genome and examining good candidate genes. The KWE mutation remained elusive.


In 2012 Thandiswa Ngcungcu, then an MSc student in Human Genetics at Wits and supervised by Ramsay chose KWE as a topic for her PhD. Her research involved large-scale DNA sequencing during an internship on the Next Generation Scientist Programme in Novartis, Basel. The mutation was not detected by conventional data analysis so copy number variants (genetic changes) – where regions of the genome are duplicated or deleted – were investigated. Ngcungcu and the researchers then discovered a mutation in a region between genes that was present in all South African KWE affected individuals studied.

During this time Dr Torunn Fiskerstrand, University of Bergen, Norway, independently discovered the genetic cause of KWE in Norwegians. Ramsay and Fiskerstrand collaborated. The different DNA duplications in the South African and Norwegian families overlapped at a critical genomic region called an enhancer (which ‘switches on’ the gene) – providing strong evidence that this was, in fact, the KWE mutation.


For over a year the scientists researched how this duplicated enhancer caused KWE. They demonstrated that the mutation causes a nearby gene to produce more protein than normal and that this abnormal expression was the likely cause of the skin peeling. Exactly twenty years after determining that the KWE mutation lies on chromosome 8, the mutation that causes KWE was identified and published.


Solving the mystery of KWE was a journey of data analysis, ancestry mapping, genomic comparison and global collaboration. Ngcungcu continues her work as a postdoctoral fellow examining the genetics of another skin disorder, albinism, and as a lecturer in the Division of Human Genetics at Wits from July 2017.

Top Award for Research on the African Continent Awarded to Wits Researcher

- L.Rautenbach

Professor Lynn Morris received the prestigious Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award, considered an equivalent to the Nobel Prize, on 2 June 2017.

The award, with a monetary value of R1, 5m, is made annually to encourage excellence in scholarship and acknowledge cutting-edge, internationally significant work. Awardees are leading scholars who have a sustained record of outstanding research and intellectual achievement at the highest level. They must have demonstrated a capacity for and a commitment to knowledge transfer to their fellow citizens. Up to now, the Award has only been presented to South Africans or South Africa-based academics.

Morris is an alumna of Wits University where she earned Bachelors of Science and Honours degrees. She earned her DPhil at the University of Oxford, after which she was awarded a Royal Society Florey Fellowship to undertake postdoctoral study in Australia. On her return to South Africa, she joined the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). Currently, she is the Head of the HIV Virology Laboratory within the Centre for HIV & STIs based at the NICD at the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS). She holds a joint appointment as Research Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University and as Research Associate at the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA). She has devoted the best part of the last twenty years to the search for an HIV vaccine.


Morris is internationally recognised for her work in understanding how the antibody response to HIV develops. The rapid mutability of the virus means that the ‘standard’ antibody response is quickly obsolete in an infected individual. She has been prominent in studying the rare appearance in some patients of so-called broadly neutralising antibodies which can attack a broad range of mutated viruses. This work is currently one of the most promising leads towards the production of an effective anti-HIV vaccine. 


Morris plans on using the Oppenheimer Fellowship to develop a novel antibody-based approach for the prevention of HIV infection in women. This project will make use of an antibody, which shows exceptional antiviral activity against HIV that she and her team and collaborators in the USA, isolated from an HIV-infected woman living in KwaZulu-Natal.


Morris is the fifth scientist from Wits to earn the distinguished fellowship since its initiation in 2001. Other Harry Oppenheimer Fellows from Wits include Professor Helen Rees (2014) for Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute (WRHI);  Professor Duncan Mitchell (2010) for Physiology; Professor Norman Owen-Smith (2005) for Environmental Sciences; and Professor David Glasser (2001) for  Chemical Engineering.

Wits Researchers Highlight Improved Patient Outcomes for Common Cancers

- L.R

Wits researchers highlight boost to patient outcomes as a result of advances in cancer treatment mangement.

Wits researchers investigating the common cancers in South Africa have highlighted the significant boost to patient outcomes as a result of advances in the treatment of these cancers, especially for the aggressive Her2-positive breast cancer and metastatic colorectal cancer.

Breast and colorectal cancer are amongst the most common cancers in South Africa.The most recent South African National Cancer Registry data from 2012 shows that over 2900 new metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) patients are diagnosed each year, with men slightly more predominant than women.

According to Professor Paul Ruff, Chief Specialist, Professor and Head of the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of the Witwatersrand Faculty of Health Sciences, breast and colorectal cancer are amongst the most common cancers in South Africa. Most recent South African National Cancer Registry data from 2012 shows that over 2900 new metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) patients are diagnosed each year, with men slightly more predominant than women.

“In the treatment of mCRC, median survivals have increased from around one year to over three years, with the advent of medicines that inhibit blood vessel growth (angiogenesis) or signal transduction to the colorectal cell nucleus via the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) pathway.” Tumour cells require new blood vessels to proliferate, invade and metastasize, while EGFR signalling enhances tumour cell growth.

Medicines achieving exciting results in mCRC treatment include antiangiogenic agents such as bevacizumab, ramucirumab and aflibercept, anti-EGFR monoclonal antibodies cetuximab and panitumumab in RAS wild-type patients, and more recently checkpoint inhibitors such as pembrolizumab in MSI-H tumours.

Prof Ruff has authored a number of peer-reviewed papers on the key mCRC clinical trials, including the CRYSTAL (cetuximab), PRIME (panitumumab), VELOUR (aflibercept) and ASPECCT (panitumumab and cetuximab) studies. He is on ASPECCT study’s steering committee and continues collaboration on ASPECCT and VELOUR.

In relation to the treatment of advanced mCRC, Prof Ruff says “we hope to achieve better biomarker driven patient selection especially for antiangiogenic therapy where there are no biomarkers”.

 Dr Georgia Demetriou, Senior Consultant in the Division of Medical Oncology and Head Medical Teaching Unit 597 at the University of the Witwatersrand Faculty of Health Sciences and Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital says breast cancer is the most common cancer presenting in South African women across the board. The most recent National Cancer Registry data from 2012 shows that over 8000 women develop breast cancer in South Africa per year.

 “Between 15 to 20% cases of breast cancer in South Africa as well as worldwide are Her2-positive, an aggressive subtype of breast cancer with a higher risk of recurrence and metastatic spread to sites such as liver, lungs, bone and sometimes brain,” Dr Demetriou explains. “Over the past 20 years, we have come a long way in identifying, blocking and treating this cancer as a result of several key clinical trials.”

 Her2 is a protein that can stimulate breast cancer cell growth. The use of targeted ‘blockade’ drug therapy and, more recently, targeted dual drug therapy, known as ‘dual blockade’, has come a long way in identifying and blocking Her2-positive breast cancer.

 In the neoadjuvant treatment (chemotherapy and targeted treatment before surgery) Her2 blockade has doubled the rate of pathological complete response rates of patients while adjuvant therapies (chemotherapy and targeted treatment after surgery) for Her2-positive breast cancer have improved disease-free survival by up to 45% and overall survival by 33%. In patients where the cancer has spread, Her2-blockade has resulted in significantly longer median survival rates of up to six years.

 “The more recent trials have looked at a dual blockade with two of the key treatment drugs, trastuzumab and pertuzumab, to try and achieve an improved survival rate with the use of both drugs in the adjuvant setting after surgery and chemotherapy,” Dr Demetriou explains. This was discussed at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Conference in Chicago at the beginning of June 2017, although there is concern that the small improvement in survival comes with a prohibitive cost.

 Methods of administering trastuzumab have also changed over time from intravenous administration which takes 1 to 1.5 hours, to subcutaneous administration which takes about 15 minutes. Studies have shown both routes to be equally effective.

 These exciting advances in both Her-2 positive breast cancer and mCRC treatment represent a significant improvement in patient outcomes, with several global clinical trials, in which the Wits Medical Oncology Division has collaborated at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

Witsie is New Secretary General Society of Neuroscientists of Africa (SONA)

- L.Rautenbach

Professor Amadi O. Ihunwo, from the School of Anatomical Sciences to Head the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa

Amadi O. Ihunwo,  Professor and Head of  Morphological Anatomy in the School of Anatomical Sciences at Wits University has been elected Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa (SONA) for the next 4 years. His election was made recently during the 13th International Conference of the Society that took place at Imperial Beach Resort Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda, from 11-14 June 2017.

SONA is a non-profit organisation registered in Nairobi, Kenya and functions as the umbrella organisation for the regional and national neuroscience societies and groups in Africa. SONA is also an affiliate of the International Brain Research Organisation (IBRO). The society's mandate is to promote research, teaching and advocacy in Neuroscience in Africa and holds an international conference every two years.

Prof. Ihunwo neuroscience interest and research is in the area of comparative adult neurogenesis on different mammalian brains, where is has been the Principal Investigator under the prestigious Switzerland-South Africa Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) from 2009 to 2014. This research aimed at providing a database of active and potential neurogenic sites in adult mammalian brains. An extension of this research is now looking at adult neurogenesis in avian species. With an NRF funding, the investigation into the integration of the new neurons into the adult hippocampal circuitry is underway.

Witsie is honoured as Young Trailblazer and Achiever

- L.R.

Dr Salome Maswime was honoured as a Young Trailblazer and Achiever by President Zuma at the National Youth Day Commemoration.

Clinical Scientist and Wits Alumni, Dr Salome Maswime was honoured as a Young Trailblazer and Achiever by President Zuma at the National Youth Day Commemoration, Tshing Sports Ground, Ventersdorp on the 16th of June 2017.

Marking 41 years since the heroic uprising by the youth of our country on 16 June 1976, the event named a number of Young Trailblazers and Achievers who were proving it was possible to be successful in South Africa as a young person.

President Zuma said: “More young people are becoming doctors and specialists at a young age in our country. We are proud to host an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist who is also a lecturer and director of the Wits University Obstetrics and Gynaecology Clinical Research Division at the age 34, Dr Salome Maswime from Midrand in Gauteng.”

Dr Maswime, originally from Limpopo, wanted to become a doctor, because of her love for working with people and wanting to help people in need. During her training she discovered her love of the labour ward, finding it was both thrilling and rewarding. Eventually, her passion inspired her to complete a PhD, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the South African Medical Research Council, investigating the reduction of maternal morbidity and mortality from caesarian section related haemorrhage. Auditing the deaths and near deaths of mothers in 15 hospitals in southern Gauteng, and conducted a systematic review. Her research revealed that the traditional emphasis on surgical and medical techniques to stop haemorrhaging could be supplemented with other interventions that will reduce caesarian section-related deaths.

Passionate to improve the quality of service to birthing mothers in South Africa, she has presented this research in South Africa, Canada, Spain and Denmark. She has also represented the Wits Obstetrics and Gynaecology Clinical Research Division in Morrocco and Sweden. Additionally, she is an executive member of the South African Perioperative Research Group, a member of the International Network of Obstetric Survey Systems and is collaborating with the World Health Organization. Later this year as Chairperson of the Organising Committee of the Maternal Health Summit, which will be hosted in Johannesburg from 9 – 11 November, the topic of safer delivery and caesarian section will be under the spotlight.

 Dr Salome Maswime, is a true example of a modern health professional. A remarkable trailblazer in the health sciences, balancing the demands of being a clinician and researcher while advancing the knowledge of high-risk pregnancies in the medical field.  She is to be named in the Mail & Guardian 200 young South Africans on 30 June.

Wits Researchers Impact the International HIV Cure and Functional Cure Agenda

- LR

Wits clinician, Dr Avy Violari, F.C.Paed, reported a functional cure case today at the 9th IAS Conference on HIV Science in Paris, France.

Wits researchers reported today that a nine-year-old South African child who was diagnosed with HIV-1 infection at one month of age and received antiretroviral treatment (ART) during infancy has suppressed the virus without anti-HIV drugs for eight and a half years. Wits clinician, Dr Avy Violari, F.C.Paed, reported the case today at the 9th IAS Conference on HIV Science in Paris, France. Wits researcher, Professor Caroline Tiemessen led the key laboratory investigations and is the senior author on the paper.

 Worldwide, this case appears to be the third reported instance of sustained HIV-1 remission in a child after early, limited ART. The first case, the “Mississippi Baby,” born with HIV-1 in 2010, received ART beginning 30 hours after birth, stopped therapy around 18 months of age, and controlled the virus without drugs for 27 months before it reappeared in her blood. The second case reported in 2015, described a French child who was born with HIV-1 in 1996, started ART 3 months after birth, stopped treatment sometime between ages 5.5 and 7 years, and continued to control the virus without drugs more than 11 years later.

 The South African child whose case was reported today was definitively diagnosed as HIV-1 positive during 2007 at 32 days of age, and was then enrolled on the the NIAID-funded Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy (CHER) clinical trial. The NIAID provided funding for the CHER trial as part of a Comprehensive International Program for Research on AIDS–South Africa grant. HIV-1 infected infants in the trial were assigned at random to receive one of three treatments - either deferred ART, or early limited ART for 40 or 96 weeks. The current child was assigned to receive early ART (AZT, 3TC, Lopinavir/ritonavir) for 40 weeks.

 Before starting ART, the child had very high viral loads, but at about 9 weeks of age, the ART suppressed the virus to undetectable levels. Investigators halted treatment after 40 weeks as per the trial randomization. They closely monitored the infant’s immune health and the child has remained in good health during years of follow-up examinations. Although it was not standard practice in South Africa to monitor viral load in people who were not on ART, recent analyses of stored blood samples taken during follow-up visits showed that the child has maintained undetectable levels of HIV-1 since treatment interruption.

 When the child was 9 and a half years old, investigators conducted thorough laboratory and clinical studies to assess the child’s immune health and the presence of HIV-1. They detected a viral reservoir that had integrated into a tiny proportion of immune cells (calculated DNA reservoir size ≈ 5 copies/1 x 106 PBMCs), but otherwise found no evidence of HIV-1 infection. The child had a healthy level of key immune cells, a viral load that was undetectable by the routine laboratory diagnostic assays, and no symptoms of HIV-1 infection. They detected a trace of immune system response to the virus (weak HIV-specific antibodies, weak Gag-specific CD4 T cell response, no CD8 T cell response), but found no replication competent HIV-1. The scientists also confirmed that the child does not have genetic characteristics that have previously been associated with spontaneous control of HIV-1 in adults, suggesting that the 40 weeks of ART provided during infancy may have been key to achieving HIV-1 remission in this case.

 Dr Avy Violari (who co-led the CHER trial with Dr Mark Cotton), is head of pediatric research at the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Professor Caroline Tiemessen is a Wits NRF/DST Research Chair in HIV Vaccine translational research in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and head of cell biology at the Centre of HIV and STIs of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg.

Dr Wezile Chitha Appointed as Acting Assistant Dean: Strategic Affairs

- LR

Dr Wezile Chitha Appointed as Acting Assistant Dean: Strategic Affairs

Dr Wezile Chitha, former Dean of Health Sciences at Walter Sisulu University, and the founding Director of the Albertina Sisulu Centre for Global Health & Research has been appointed Acting Assistant Dean: Strategic Affairs for the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits effective 1 July 2017.

He will lead the Faculty’s efforts in terms of building robust partnerships and strategic relationships, extending community engagement as well as tackling cross-cutting issues vital to advancing the goals of the Faculty and University. He will make a significant contribution to the Programme for integration of South African students doing medicine in Cuba.

He is a medical doctor, health economist, and award-winning public health manager with extensive experience within the South African health care environment. He has had significant exposure to transformation opportunities, partnership governance, and the implementation of priority health programmes at primary, tertiary and academic levels. His experience includes work and collaboration with South African government institutions, the NGO sector, research institutions, and national and international universities.

He obtained his medical degree in 2000 and Master’s in Public Health (Health Economics) from the University of Cape Town in 2006. Later he achieved the Advanced Management Development Programme from the University of Stellenbosch and most recently his PhD in Public Health from Walter Sisulu University.

As a taskmaster with a unique blend of managerial, professional, research and practice experience, Dr Chitha has had success in producing transformation and innovation outcomes. He played vital roles in transforming a rural district hospital into a respected rural referral specialist hospital and in creating a framework for the implementation of continuous quality improvement in clinical care at Frontier Hospital.

As head of Mowbray Maternity Hospital, he managed both an urban regional hospital level obstetric and neonatal service and the peri-urban community-based midwife obstetric units in a functional District Health System.

Under his leadership, the Mowbray Maternity Hospital won the Western Cape Premier’s Service Excellence Award announced at the beginning of 2008. With his contribution as a new chief medical superintendent, Frontier Hospital was named Best Performing Hospital by the Eastern Cape Department of Health towards the end of 2008.

As Dean of Health Sciences at Walter Sisulu University, Chitha led the successful restructuring, transformation and expansion of the faculty including the implementation of the integrated longitudinal clinical clerkship, deaneries in Port Elizabeth and East London, community engagement initiatives and strategic research initiatives.

“As an exceptional academic and dynamic leader, Dr Chitha will play a key role in driving the Faculty’s strategic imperatives to increase research intensity and expand the reputation of the Faculty of Health Sciences as a globally competitive and locally responsive institution,” says Professor Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits.


Chitha is delighted at the opportunity to help advance the goals of the faculty and university as well as provide the leadership and stewardship to strengthen the Faculty’s local and regional responsiveness.

“I believe, with careful assessment of both macro and micro trends and the consolidation of strategic relationships, the Faculty will be well positioned to devise strategies that connect the Faculty’s actions and messages with a diverse and expanding set of stakeholders, supporting its broadest transformation processes successfully,” says Chitha.

How to sell unhealthy sugary drinks in South Africa? Advertise!


A new study shows that energy drinks have achieved the highest recent sales volume growth in SA.

South Africa’s planned sugary beverage tax is still under scrutiny - the questions they’re grappling with are whether the country needs a tax and how effective it will be.

The reality is that the move to introduce this tax; also known as a health promotion levy - is necessary, as diets and lifestyles are changing in South Africa and non-communicable diseases and obesity are on the rise. The tax tries to reduce consumption of harmful products through increasing price but there are other drivers which also need attention – advertising in particular.

A new study published by PRICELESS at the Wits School of Public Health and the Economics of Tobacco Control Project at UCT shows that advertising and sales of sugary drinks are on the rise. Lead author, Nick Stacey, said results of this study have established that across beverage categories, energy drinks have achieved the highest recent sales volume growth in SA. Between 2009 and 2014, the annual volume of sports and energy drinks rose from about 98 million litres to 168 million litres, rising from approximately two to three litres per capita in only five years.

The primary health risk posed by the consumption of these drinks is the high caffeine and sugar content which in excess, have dire consequences. 



A key factor influencing consumption of processed food and drinks is how they are marketed to potential consumers, and this is especially true of newer entrants like energy drinks.

Preference for food and beverage products is shaped by brand image through tactical marketing and advertising strategies.

According to PRICELESS SA Director, Professor Karen Hofman, results of this study have unveiled that the majority of energy drink advertising expenditure has been on television advertising – focused generally on channels with a younger and more male audience below the age of 45 who are relatively wealthy. The study further finds that individuals who watch channels high in energy drink advertising are more likely to consume energy drinks.


The reintroduction of South Africa to the global economy following the onset of democracy in 1994 has seen the entrance of large multinational food companies and a rapidly changing food environment, with increased consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Despite the significant risks posed by energy drink consumption, the SA government has taken little action to regulate the production or marketing of energy drinks to consumers.

The legislation is in place requiring manufacturers to label caffeine content in energy drinks, however, there are no colour- or type-setting restrictions, allowing producers to obscure this warning from potential buyers through careful package design.


Regulation of advertising of energy drinks has a potential role as a means to discourage consumption, alongside other concurrent measures such as transparent and clearer front-of pack labelling; which in turn, will decrease risks associated with high consumption of caffeine and sugar.

Social Justice Activist to Lead Occupational Therapy at Wits


Dr Fasloen Adams has been appointed Head of Department for Occupational Therapy in the School of Therapeutic Sciences at Wits’ Faculty of Health Sciences.

Dr Fasloen Adams has been appointed Head of Department for Occupational Therapy in the School of Therapeutic Sciences at Wits’ Faculty of Health Sciences from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2021.

She succeeds Professor Pat De Witt and will be responsible for maintaining the excellent standards of undergraduate teaching, increasing the postgraduate output and advancing context relevant research in the Department.

Prior to taking up this role, Dr Adams was a Lecturer with the Department of Occupational Therapy, in the School of Therapeutic Sciences from 2005. An ardent social justice orientated health professional, Dr Adams is a graduate of Stellenbosch University, with a Master’s degree from the University of Cape Town and a PhD from Wits.

Dr Adams began her career in 1995 as a Junior Occupational Therapist at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital in Cape Town, and later an Occupational Therapist at Groote Schuur Hospital, gaining a solid grounding in psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.

She relocated to the USA for a number of years where she focused mainly on the physical and paediatric fields of practice. As Chief Psychiatric Occupational Therapist for New Surfside, a non-profit services provider, based in New York she developed and coordinated a programme for community-based psychiatric practice.

In 2000 she returned to South Africa and joined the University of Cape Town as a service learning coordinator and supervisor of third and fourth- year students. She gained experience in guiding and supporting student assessment in collaboration with clinical staff at various psychiatric facilities, promoting the integration of theory with practice.

Moving to Johannesburg in 2005 to join Wits, she has been part of a successful team that has seen the department grown in size and stature. As course coordinator in public health and occupational therapy, public health fieldwork coordinator, lecturer in psychiatry applied to occupational therapy and occupational science as well as fieldwork supervisor she has contributed significantly to the excellence of the department and its continued reputation as a leader in OT training. In 2011 and 2012 she received the School’s award for Outstanding Mentoring in recognition for her efforts.

 Her research interests are diverse and include collective occupations, occupational science applied to the African context, empowerment and disability studies. She has already produced a number of papers and 2 book chapters. A strong advocate for collaborative research, Dr Adams was a member of a national collaborative study in 2008 between the Universities of Witwatersrand, Cape Town, Free s-State, KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and Medunsa as well as various disability organisations, to investigate how youth with disabilities sustain their livelihood. In 2016 she was appointed as a member of the technical advisory group for a research project carried out by the Health Systems Trust, entitled: “Evaluation of the status of disability and rehabilitation services within the public sector in terms of preparedness for the implementation of the 2015 Disability and Rehabilitation Policy Framework and Strategy.”

 Building on the solid foundation of her predecessor, Dr Adams intends to lead the transformation of the department from the current individual intervention model to that of a communal perspective. In this way, it will contribute to the necessary shift that occupational therapy must make as a discipline to truly serve the needs of South Africa.

To achieve this transformation Dr Adams has prioritized the strategic direction and focus of the department’s research, the expansion of community practice for students and the expansion of e-learning and online platforms to facilitate efficient supervision across the larger clinical platform.

“We are delighted to have Dr Adams take the reins of the Department and look forward to its progress in achieving the vision for community orientated occupational therapy.” says Judith Bruce: Head of School for the Therapeutic Sciences.

 “It’s a great honour to lead this Department and the team. I believe that the department has the transformative perspective required to be a change agent for the Faculty, the University and for occupational therapy as a profession. Our country needs models for application in the African context. Our research can build African knowledge and our teaching can integrate and apply such perspectives.” says Dr Adams.

World Renowned Scientist Calls for Innovation to Win The Battle Against HIV/ AIDS


Professor Glenda Gray delivers the Faculty of Health Sciences’ prestigious AJ Orenstein Memorial Lecture 2017.

Wits alumna Professor Glenda Gray, an NRF A-rated scientist, CEO and President of the South African Medical Research Council, Non-Executive Director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (HPRU) at Wits, and a TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World 2017, delivered the Faculty of Health Sciences’ prestigious AJ Orenstein Memorial Lecture, entitled: HIV/AIDS : Battling to win the battle


Her thought provoking and detailed timeline analysis of the epidemic in South Africa highlighted the massive impact of aids denialism, the significant impact research undertaken in 2000’s made resulting in increased life expectancy by ten years within one decade and the need now for novel strategies and new approaches to prevention and treatment.  


Prof Gray highlighted that while vaccine trials already underway would reveal their efficacy in just five years, the move towards immune and genetic cures was becoming more important. “What we really need is a vaccine for violence,” she said, given the interplay of biological and social determinants. Changing society’s patriarchy will take decades. Biological interventions are all we have for now.”


Prof Gray gave thanks and accolades to the researchers of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit based in Soweto who over the last 21 years have collectively developed a world renowned unit focused on HIV prevention and treatment and made many significant breakthroughs in research, including the recent research breakthrough in the area of an HIV functional cure.

Upholding the Human Face of Research


Professor Ames Dhai, Director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, presented her inaugural lecture on 6 September 2017

Professor Ames Dhai, Director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, presented her inaugural lecture on protectionism for health research participants on the 6th of September 2017.

In health research, protectionism is the notion that human beings should be protected from the risks, harms, and wrongs that could result because of their participation in studies. 

During her lecture, Prof Dhai unpacked the evolution of protectionism in health research in South Africa from the 1800’s. She also highlighted the role that Wits had played as a leader in this context. Outlining 3 distinct historical waves categorised as weak, moderate and strong, she described how weak protectionism amounted to researchers relying specifically on their own moral virtues and exercising freedom of choice on participant protections. "The problem with this is that it leaves the researcher with a high degree of control over participant management, a situation that existed as the norm before the middle of the last century and resulted in the many abuses and tragedies in health research. Even researchers with the very best intentions and abundant goodwill towards humanity can, through the zealous pursuit of their good goals be blinded into cutting corners".  Moderate protectionism was introduced with the emergence of guidelines and oversight by bodies like RECs and strong protectionism is the inclusion of protectionism in jurisprudence to safeguard participant welfare in law.P

" think that when we consider the evolution of protectionism in our country for the participants of health research, we have been able to in a fundamental way fulfil Steve’s Biko's hopes and aspirations encapsulated in his quote : “In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face.” 

However, she cautioned that upholding the human face of our research participants is now more critical than ever before."Being swept under the crest is not an alternative that we will be able to live with. Collectively, let’s continue defending our Constitutional promises to our research participants."  

Fogarty International’s Emerging Global Leader Award For Dr. Alisha Wade


Dr. Alisha Wade, Clinician Scientist and Senior Researcher in the MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) in the School of Public Health and endocrinologist at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre has received an Emerging Global Leader Award from the Fogarty International Centre of the National Institutes of Health in the United States.

 Dr Wade received her MBBS (Hons) degree from the University of the West Indies and DPhil (Ph.D.) from the University of Oxford prior to completing clinical training at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Centre and the University of Pennsylvania. She will be investigating the burden of endocrine and metabolic diseases in rural South Africa and ways in which we can improve the detection of these conditions. The award, which will run over five years, will provide Dr. Wade with protected time for research and career development activities. She will be mentored primarily by Prof Stephen Tollman of the Agincourt unit and Prof Anne Cappola in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at the University of Pennsylvania.


Teaching and Learning Goes 21st Century at Wits


To address some of the challenges of tertiary education today, Wits is pioneering a student-centred adaptive learning environment called the eZone.

To address some of the challenges of tertiary education today, Wits is pioneering a student-centred adaptive learning environment called the eZone. It’s aimed at revolutionising traditional didactic teaching and learning methods so that health sciences and education students become highly tech savvy and can apply their knowledge directly.

As a result, the once cooking and sewing laboratory of the Home Economics department has been transformed into space set to disrupt lecture theatre rigidity. The launch of the eZone sees students who are studying to become nurses, teachers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and pharmacists come together in a vibrant high-tech learning space.

According to Sandra Khan a third-year Occupational Therapy student, “A lot of what we deal with in OT as a profession is making things accessible. Where technology resources are concerned not everyone has a laptop or access to Wi-Fi and so it is nice that you don’t have to pay for a laptop; you can just come and use one here in the eZone, as long as you have your student card. This is an easy space for groups to meet; you are not restricted as much as being in a library because there you have to be quiet. The eZone is a nice, chilled, comfortable space to do work and meet as groups. It is easier to get work done!”

Power failures, protests and disruptions, and digital apartheid have plagued the day-to-day academic activities in Higher Education. Now the eZone offers mobile technology and high-speed wireless connectivity, ensuring that students have equal and continuous access to learning resources and activities.

“It is not just about the space,” says Paula Barnard-Ashton, manager of eFundanathi (Learn with Us). “It is about transforming the curriculum to meet the students’ learning needs, upskilling lecturers in using blended learning, and integrating the efficiencies that software can have on our academic and research output.”

Recent studies by Barnard-Ashton, Koch and Rothberg as well as [full name at first] Ravat, Barnard-Ashton and [full name at first] George have shown that using 21st century blended learning meaningfully improved the academic performance of occupational therapy and physiotherapy students, consistently increasing the pass rates by more than 10%.     

Through e-Learning, study costs can be significantly reduced by limiting outlay for textbooks. Students’ access to learning materials is improved, and effective teaching occurs in an environment that allows for rapid innovation.

Through group collaboration, lecturers are able to teach growing numbers of students while the environment allows for each student to have a voice in a large class

 The outcome of applying new pedagogy like this has a long-term impact too. Next generation educators, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists, pharmacologists, biokineticists and sports scientists will be equipped with critical thinking skills, and feel at home in the high-tech world of work.

The eZone paves the way to further innovation in terms of online learning, virtual learning and simulation, ultimately to telescience and education.

Lancet Commission on Diabetes in Sub-Saharan Africa Launched at Wits

- Dr. Ryan G. Wagner, MRC/Wits Agincourt Research Unit

The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology Commission on “Diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa: from clinical care to health policy”, was launched at Wits

Diabetes is progressively becoming a global public health crisis. Sub-Saharan Africa, with an aging population, increasing levels of obesity and heightened access to sugary, processed foods, is at increased risk for diabetes. On the 27th of September, the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology Commission on “Diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa: from clinical care to health policy”, was launched at the Wits’ School of Public Health by the MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt).

 The Commission report was presented by co-lead Commissioner Prof Justine Davies who highlighted the paucity of current knowledge of diabetes on the continent, the substantial cost of the condition to both the patient and the health system as well as the fact that the current health care system is ill-equipped to address this growing burden. The health care system does not have the financial resources to address the growing burden. The panelists, made up of leading Wits experts- Prof Karen Hofman, Prof Ken Huddle, Prof Derick Raal and Dr. Alisha Wade, acknowledged the value of the Commission’s report and highlighted the importance of focusing on both preventing as well as treating diabetes, with poignant input from the audience on the serious effects of diabetes.  

 The event was well-attended by a diverse group of individuals, including Director Sandhya Singh and other colleagues from the National Department of Health’s Non-Communicable Disease Cluster, researchers, clinicians and patient advocates. The audience contributed to a lively and challenging debate on the future of diabetes research, policy setting and treatment in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent, and provided an opportunity for stakeholders to come together to reflect on and begin to address a critical health challenge for Africa.

 Further information and access to the full Commission report from the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology can be found at

Clinician Cardiologist to Lead Wits Cardiology to New Heights


Dr Nqoba Tsabedze has been appointed as Academic Head of Division Cardiology

Dr Nqoba Tsabedze has been appointed as Academic Head of Division Cardiology in the Department of Internal Medicine in the School of Clinical Medicine with effect 1 August 2017. 

Dr Tsabedze assumes the role from his previous position as Clinician Scientist and Specialist Cardiologist at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Wits. He has also been recently appointed at the Clinical Head of Cardiology at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital with effect from 1st October 2017.

The Division of Cardiology at Wits runs one of the largest cardiac clinical services in the country as well as the largest clinical training platform for cardiology fellowships in the country. It services the three major academic hospitals as well as all the peripheral hospitals surrounding the academic hospitals and provides tertiary cardiac services to patients from the North West Province.
Tsabedze’ s passion for addressing the overwhelming burden of cardiovascular disease in South Africa and Africa is well known via his innovative research into heart failure and his leadership roles with the Heart Failure Society of South Africa, and the SA Heart Association.
His plan as HOD is to continue the large-scale service commitment encouraging collaboration between the various teaching hospitals as well as introducing new activities to make more of an impact in the area of heart failure. He intends standardising cardiology bedside teaching at both undergrad and registrar level, encouraging consultants to leverage the benefits of research and protecting research time to become more data-driven, re-invigorating lost areas of practice like electrophysiology and ensuring the division plays an active role in public education.
“I am honored to take up a leadership role in the School and hope to play a significant role in transforming the competency and collaboration of the Cardiology staff and fellows across all three academic hospitals,” says Tsabedze.  “By extending the division’s research intensity to complement its clinical strength we can continue to lead as an academic centre for cardiology.”
Professor Daynia Ballot, Head of School: Clinical Medicine says: “The School of Clinical Medicine is privileged to have staff of Dr Tsabedze’s calibre.  He is an inspiration to junior doctors, demonstrating what can be achieved in a relatively short space of time.  I wish him well in his position as head of cardiology and look forward to lots more illustrious research.”


Dr Tsabedze gained his MBBCH from the Witwatersrand University in 2005 and completed his medical internship at Chris Hani Baragwaneth Hospital, achieving the Medical Intern of the Year Award in 2006.  As a medical Registrar with the University of Witwatersrand between 2008 and 2011 he became interested in pursuing cardiology as a speciality. In 2011 he was accepted as a fellow of the College of Physicians of South Africa and took up his cardiology fellowship with the Division of Cardiology at Wits in 2012. In 2014 he undertook his Masters of Medicine, researching Peri-procedural myocardial infarction following percutaneous coronary intervention at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. This prospective study was published in the International Journal of Cardiology.
In 2015 he was awarded a Carnegie Clinical Research Fellowship to start his PhD on the genetics of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, seeking to find answers to why the black population is affected by heart failure without any obvious cause. Through DNA Whole Exome sequencing and family pedigree analysis for heart failure he investigates a possible genetic cause. Working with a cohort of families he is hoping to identify any association with genetic markers. The results of this research will be published soon and will no doubt inform the guidelines for heart failure management for the country.
In addition to his hospital and research work, he also runs the academic programme for fellows training in cardiology and teaches medical students. He is also an executive member of the Heart Failure Society of South Africa, and of the SA Heart Association.
He has been published in six internationally accredited journals, and reviews for the Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine and Cardiology, the Journal of Cardiology & Clinical Research, the Journal of Clinical, Medical and Experimental Images, Cardiology (Journal), the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders and the South African Medical Research Council.
In 2017 he was named by Mail& Guardian as an M&G’s Top 200 Young South African.

Neonatologist takes reins of Wits School of Clinical Medicine


Professor Daynia Ballot, a renowned paediatrician with a sub-speciality in neonatology and an NRF C2 rated researcher, takes the reins as Head of the School of Clinical Medicine. Ballot assumes the role of Head of School after being Assistant Head of School: Cluster C (Obstetrics and Gynecology, Paediatrics and Child Health, Family Medicine and Primary Care).

As Assistant Head of School: Cluster C Ballot was instrumental in strengthening the research and teaching focus across the three departments to improve postgraduate output and collaboration between these departments. “We are delighted that an academic and scientist of Professor Ballot’s calibre will take the reins of our largest school and drive the Faculty’s strategic imperatives to increase research intensity and extend the clinical training platform, with an emphasis on primary health care,” says Professor Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. 

When asked about the new appointment Prof Ballot said: “The School has a strong foundation and solid reputation contributing to the Faculty and the University. I see my role as leading the processes of strengthening the collaboration of the clusters, operationalising the fundamentals and managing the transformation process of both the undergraduate and post-graduate teaching and learning environments. It’s a significant challenge to take the school to its next level but I am confident with the management team we have in place and with a strong focus on staff development and contribution, it can be achieved.”

Professor Daynia Ballot was inspired by her obstetrician mother to enter the health sciences. She gained her MBBCH from Wits in 1982 and then completed her internship at Hillbrow Hospital. Later she was a medical officer and a Registrar in Pediatrics at Wits. She pursued and completed her PhD (Wits) in 1989, focusing on iron nutrition, and went on to become a Research Registrar at the Neonatal Unit at the Johannesburg Hospital. In 1990 she was admitted as a fellow of the College of Paediatricians of South Africa and registered as a subspecialist in Neonatology with Health Professions Council of SA in 1993. 

At Johannesburg Hospital she progressed to Specialist Paediatrician, then to Senior Specialist Paediatrician and later Associate Professor of Pediatrics in 2002. In 2004 she became Principal Specialist Pediatrician in the Neonatal Unit, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) before taking on the role of Assistant Head of School for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Paediatrics and Child Health, Family Medicine and Primary Care (Cluster C) in 2017.

Her volunteer work for the hospital and department of Paediatrics through the Wits Paediatric Fund has helped raise funds for more modern equipment for the Hospital. She has been awarded both the Wits Volunteer and Vice Chancellor’s Academic Citizenship awards for her community commitment. As a researcher Ballot has published more than 60 papers and has established the Project for Improving Neonatal Care (PRINCE) Research programme based at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH), which undertakes research into quality improvement in neonatal care in three specific areas -perinatal asphyxia, extreme prematurity and prevention of infection. 

he is invited to review many local and international journals and currently serves as a councillor on the Fellowship of the College of Paediatricians. 

Ballot names her mentors as Professor Andrew MacPhail, her PhD supervisor who promoted her interest in research, and Professors Alan Rothberg and Peter Cooper, who allowed her to pursue neonatal research while working as a clinician in the department. 

When she is not busy at work, Ballot enjoys family activities, reading, and travel.

Tackling good oral health care in Diepsloot


Wits Community Dentistry with sponsorship from Aquafresh together with the Gauteng Department of Health hosted an Oral Health Day.

Diepsloot, in the north of Johannesburg,  is an informal settlement with a staggering population of around 350,000 people. Conditions are poor. Many of the inhabitants live in tiny shacks assembled mostly from scrap metal, wood, plastic and cardboard. The majority of the families lack access to basic services such as running water, sewage and rubbish removal. Healthcare comes at a premium with just two Primary Health Care clinics in the area and no dental facilities. Most residents would have to travel over 10km to oral health care centres.

Oral health is not something most families in the area place huge value on. Yet good oral health care is integral to general health. Research shows that poor oral health, such as dental caries (cavities) affects the general health and wellbeing of individuals as a result of the pain and disability it can cause (Marcenes et al, 2013 ). It affects the ability to speak, eat and carry out daily activities and evidence has shown dental caries to be associated with poor school performance amongst children ( Sheiham, 2005; Casamassimo et al, 2009).

In South Africa, over 60% of our primary school children suffer from dental decay ( Wyk & Wyk, 2004; Reddy & Singh, 2015 ), of more concern is that over 80% of the children go untreated for the disease ( Wyk & Wyk, 2004; Thekiso et al, 2012). This is because of the high-cost care that the oral health system is battling to cope with (Wyk & Wyk, 2004; Molete et al, 2016). The NHI white paper also reported that oral health care is the greatest (66%) health need amongst school learners in the country. (National Health Department, 2015).

In 2014 the Wits Department of Community Dentistry in the School of Oral Health Sciences joined hands with the global healthcare company Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) and the Gauteng Department of Health, as part of its corporate social responsibility initiatives. The aim was to take oral health care directly to this impoverished community and begin to tackle good oral health care.

GSK donated the two fully equipped mobile dental units to Wits so that the Wits Department of Community Dentistry would be able to conduct service learning and provide oral health services to the under-served communities of Diepsloot and other local underserves sites within a 5km radius of the University. Today these units provide services over three days of a week to about 1500 to 2000 patients annually.

The Wits Department of Community Dentistry decided to take things a little further and adopted a primary school named Muzomuhle, situated in Zone 2 of Diepsloot with approximately 2000 learners from grade 1 until grade 7. Oral health education, preventative and emergency services are provided to the school routinely.

This year the team from Community Dentistry with sponsorship from Aquafresh ( Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK),  together with the Gauteng Department of Health, hosted an Oral Health Day to provide oral health awareness and re-inforced education for the learners and rest of the school community.

“Education days are a lot of fun and are very visible in the community, they help create the awareness of the primary importance of oral health,” says Dr Mpho Molete, Lecturer in Community Dentistry.

According to Molete et al (2016), untreated tooth decay remains high and oral healthcare utilisation is low for the majority of children in South Africa, therefore alternative methods of improving access to low-cost oral healthcare are critical.

Wits Health Sciences Alumni Take 10 Spots on The M&G’s Top 200 Young South Africans List

- LR

Every year, the Mail & Guardian scours the country to find noteworthy and newsworthy young South Africans to profile in its annual 200 Young South Africans publication. Now in its 12th year, the list has become the country’s most celebrated hallmark of the up-and-coming generation, a who’s who of young people at the top of their field in 10 categories.

 This year no more than 10 of the young South Africans profiled in the Health category are Wits Alumni. From doctors to specialists, from medical officers to clinical researchers the category is peppered with remarkable young men and women who trained at the Faculty of Health Science, recently ranked 133 in the world for clinical medicine in the Shanghai Ranking's Global Ranking of Academic Subjects .


 Wits graduates and employees listed include:

 Dr Aayesha Soni (26) a community service doctor at Helen Joseph Hospital and health advocacy writer determined to raise human rights issues in health.


Dr Kalli Spencer (32), a medical doctor specialising in urology based at the Charlotte Maxeke making reducing prostate cancer his life’s mission.


Dr Lamla Nqwata(31) , a Pulmonogist based at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital working in pulmonology and high care unit while also and embarking on research to investigate atypical mycobacteria.


Dr Nqoba Tsabedze(35) , one of the country’s leading clinician-scientists focused on unlocking the secrets of sudden heart failure prevalent in black South Africans.


Dr Salome Maswime (34 ) an Obstetrician, gynaecologist, lecturer and one of South Africa’s few clinician scientists, devoting her career to improving women’s health

 Dr Sivuyile Madikana  ,medical officer at the Hillbrow Community Health Centre, as well as in the private sector, passionate about public health in South Africa, specifically raising awareness among the youth about communicable diseases.


 Letitia Greener, HIV researcher, tackling sex work, gender-based violence and the impact of HIV to change mindsets, remove stigma and lobby for law reforms.


Natalia Neophytou (27), a Biokineticist and lecturer,  deeply passionate about autism, especially using exercise to try and improve physical activity profiles and expand knowledge and understanding of those with Autism.


Dr Thandiswa Ngcungcu, a human geneticist researching complex skin disorders such as albinisim and vitiligo to understand the genes involved in the skin pegmentation better.


Dr Tiisetso Lephoto (26),a microbiology researcher, who is trying to find alternatives using synthetic chemical pesticides.


Dr Nadine Gravett , a senior lecturer and researcher trying understand the evolution of sleep to develop novel alternative non-pharmaceutical therapies for the treatment and management of insomnia.

Wits Hosts First Maternal Health Summit

- Salome Maswime

Maternal and perinatal mortality remains a global challenge. 800 women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth. There are up to 3 million stillbirths and 3 million neonatal deaths globally every year. The high rate of avoidable deaths is unacceptably high. Despite this, there have been great advances in the field of maternal health with groundbreaking advances internationally such as fetal surgery and drugs and interventions that have saved more lives. South Africa has been part of many trials that have advanced science in Maternal and Women's Health.


The first Maternal Health Summit 2017, organised by the Wits Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology with the School of Clinical Medicine, was held under the theme of the Maternal Health Summit was 'celebrating advances in maternal health. The conference also addressed pertinent issues in maternal health such as obstetric litigation which is crippling both the private and public sector, respectful maternal care, inequities in maternal health, and maternal health priorities.


Held on 10 and 11 November at The Forum in Bryanston, 47 presentations from national and international experts were made The audience included Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Public health specialists, Paediatricians, Neonatologists, an Anaesthetist, a Psychiatrist, Registrars from 7 South African Universities, and an Advocate, as well as over 200 registered delegates and 6 international speakers.


MEC Gwen Ramokgopa made her presentation on maternal health in Gauteng and Deputy Minister of Health Joe Phaahla gave a keynote address. Other senior officials from the Department of Health were also present. Keynote speakers included Prof Belfort from Baylor College Texas, Prof Salim Abdool Karrim Director of Caprisa, Prof Pattinson from the SA MRC and Prof Langhoff Roos from the University of Copenhagen.


 Some of the key issues included the fact that Maternal Health remain a priority to the National and provinicial departments of health. Maternal health priorities are based on the causes of maternal death, however certain conditions like, depression which affect pregnant women probably even more than HIV, do not receive enough attention. Screening for depression, intimate partner violence and substance abuse, often result in unwanted pregnancies, but are not routinely screened for in antenatal care. Hypertension and haemorrhage are leading direct causes of maternal deaths in South Africa and the question ‘why are women dying from conditions that shouldn’t kill anyone’, could not be appropriately answered. Tuberculosis, which accounts for the highest number of maternal deaths in South Africa was described as having a possibly sub-optimal screening programme with the failure to initiate drugs to prevent TB in high risk pregnant women. The South African TB programme needs to be re-evaluated. Group B streptococcus also results in a high number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths, but is not screened for routinely.


Wits Research on HIV patient’s viral loads reveals new cohort at risk of therapy failure


Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute publishes new research on Low Level Virema Co-hort

In a large South African cohort study, a team of researchers from the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa) collaborating with the Ndlovu Research Consortium (Groblersdal, Limpopo, SA), the National Health Laboratory Service (SA), the University of California San Diego (USA), and the University Medical Center Utrecht (The Netherlands) found that low-level viremia in treated HIV-patients is an important risk factor for treatment failure.


The findings of the study indicate that the current WHO-defined threshold for virological failure fails to identify a large subset of patients who are at increased risk of poor outcomes of ART and that clinical interventions should take place at lower viral loads than those proposed by the current WHO guidelines. Results from this study were published in Lancet Infectious Diseases Saturday Nov 18, 2017.


“Sustainable virological suppression is an important part of the 90-90-90 targets defined by UNAIDS. This study shows that patients with LLV are at risk for therapy failure.” says Dr. Francois Venter, WHRI, Witwatersrand University. “A strong message from WHO regarding the risk of virological failure after LLV could motivate clinicians to act when LLV is encountered. “


The monumental response to the global HIV epidemic has led to an unprecedented amount of patients on antiretroviral therapy (ART). The goal of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in HIV positive patients is to suppress the amount of HIV in the blood (also known as viral load).

From the start of the ART roll-out, South Africa has invested in laboratory capacity enabling routine viral load monitoring of all patients on ART. The implementation of viral load monitoring was largely done in accordance with WHO ART guidelines, which advice annual routine monitoring and a threshold of 1000 copies/mL to define virological failure.


In clinical guidelines for high-income settings, cut-offs for therapy failure are lower and clinical intervention is already required above 50 copies/mL. Suppression below 50 copies prevents disease progression towards AIDS, prevents selection of resistance and lowers the risk of transmission of the virus to others.


The uniquely South African large-scale programmatic viral load monitoring program yields unique insights into crucial aspects of WHO ART guidelines, such as their current definition for virological failure. A study of over 70 000 patients attending 57 HIV treatment facilities has shown that patients presenting with detectable viral loads below the lenient 1000 copies/mL threshold are at an increased risk to develop virological failure that is, >1000 copies/mL.


A quarter of the patients in this cohort who were on first-line ART experienced one or more episodes of LLV. Compared to patients with virological suppression, that is with <50 copies/ml, patients with LLV were threefold more prone to develop failure of ART. In patients with LLV of the highest range (400-999 copies/mL) this risk increased to nearly fivefold, the risk to change to second-line therapy was even more pronounced to 13 times.


Important conclusions can be drawn from this study. The findings indicate that the current WHO-defined threshold for virological failure fails to identify a large subset of patients who are at an increased risk of poor outcomes of ART.


Dr Sergio Carmona, National Health Laboratory Services at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, adds that viral load monitoring remains key to determining ART success. “This study provides clear evidence that clinical interventions should take place at lower viral loads than those proposed by the current WHO guidelines. We need to support the scale-up of viral load testing in low- and middle-income countries as well as encourage adherence to ARVs and close follow-up of viral load results.” 


A more active approach to low-level viremia is essential to prevent virological failure and subsequent selection of resistance. Such an approach should be implemented prior the introduction of integrase inhibitors which are the cornerstone of ART globally to preserve this powerful treatment for the coming decades.