ASSAf Programmes

Given the critical importance of health issues for South Africa, health forms a strong focus of ASSAf’s activities. A Standing Committee on Health, established in 2011, provides strategic direction to the Academy.

The committee members are: 

  • Profs Glenda Gray, Medical Research Council (MRC), (Co-chair)
  • Prof Jerry Coovadia, MatCH Health Systems, (Co-chair)
  • Prof Iqbal Parker,  International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
  • Prof Jimmy Volmink, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Helen Rees, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Steve Reid, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Judith Bruce, University of Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Solomon Rataemane, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University
  • Prof Linda Richter, University of Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Dr Laila Asmal, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Shabir Madhi, National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)
  • Prof Angela Mathee, Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Prof Karen Hofman,  University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)

In-depth, Consensus Studies

ASSAf has completed four in-depth, consensus studies on health-related topics and is in the process of undertaking two further studies on “Provider Core Competencies for Improved Mental Health Care of the Nation" and "Reconceptualising Health Professional Education and Training in South Africa".

Completed studies are:

Diversity in Human Sexuality

A consensus study panel co-chaired by Profs Glenda Gray, Medical Research Council (MRC) and Jerry Coovadia, MatCH Health Systems, produced a report "Diversity in Human Sexuality: Implications for Policy in Africa" early in 2015. The report was produced in collaboration with the Uganda National Academy of Sciences. Members of the study panel were drawn from a wide variety of disciplines and included:

  • Prof Juan Nel, University of South Africa (Unisa)
  • Prof Beverly Kramer, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Jerome Singh, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)
  • Prof Michael Pepper, University of Pretoria (UP)
  • Prof Melissa Steyn, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Chris Beyrer, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Dr Jason van Niekerk, University of Pretoria (UP)
  • Prof James McIntyre, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Dr Juliet Kiguli, Makerere University, Uganda
  • Dr Derrick Higginbotham, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Harry Dugmore, Rhodes University – report researcher and author

This report examined the evidence that would provide answers to a set of critical questions related to gender diversity and human sexuality. The panel investigated the role or interplay of biology and environment in determining gender diversity and human sexuality; it assessed the evidence on whether sexual orientation could be altered through therapy; whether the claims that same-sex orientations posed a threat to others were authentic; and the public health consequences of criminalising same-sex sexual orientations. Future courses of action are recommended.

Improved Nutritional Assessment of Micronutrients 

The report on Improved Nutritional Assessment of Micronutrients was published in 2013 and launched at the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP) conference in Johannesburg.It was found that micronutrient malnutrition affects more South Africans than the previously perceived vulnerable groups, such as infants, children, women of reproductive age and the elderly. This study addressed six key micronutrients (vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, selenium, iron and zinc) and their potential role in pandemics, such as HIV and TB. Reasons include poverty, food and nutrition insecurity, rapidly changing lifestyles and behaviours, as well as increased availability and affordability of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods. The report called on government to invest more resources in research on nutrition in general and specifically in the selected six micronutrients.

The study panel was chaired by Prof John Pettifor, University of Witwatersrand and included the following members:

  • Prof Tola Atinmo, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
  • Dr Namukolo Covic, North-West University
  • Prof Ali Dhansay, Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Prof Wieland Gevers, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Salome Kruger, North-West University
  • Prof Xikombiso Mbhenyane, University of Venda
  • Prof Barry Mendelow, University of Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Jack Metz, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Australia
  • Prof Este Vorster, North-West University
  • Prof Michael Zimmermann, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Revitalising Clinical Research in South Africa 

This report, which was published in 2010, provides a review of the overall state of clinical research in South Africa. Many of the report’s recommendations have been acted on by the Minister of Health. For example, in 2012 it was announced that research funding was to be increased to 2% of the health budget over the next ten years; and a National Health Scholars' Programme with the immediate aim of training 1000 PhDs in the clinical streams over the next ten years would be launched.

The study panel was chaired by Prof Bongani Mayosi and included the following members:

  • Prof Ames Dhai, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Dan Ncayiyana, Human Science Research Council (HSRC)
  • Prof Gregory Hussey, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Jack Moodley, Health Systems Trust
  • Prof Jimmy Volmink, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Letticia Moja, University of Limpopo
  • Ms Maureen Kirkman, Pharmaceutical Industry Association of South Africa
  • Dr Nandi Siegfried, South African Medical Research Council
  • Dr Nonhlanhla Madela-Mntla, South African Medical Research Council
  • Prof Peter Folb, South African Medical Research Council
  • Prof Wieland Gevers, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof William Pick, University of Cape Town (UCT)

HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Nutrition 

The report on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Nutrition, published in 2007 was ASSAf's first consensus study in the health area.The issues concerning nutritional influences on human immunity and the response to major epidemic infections such as those caused by HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) have been among the most controversial in South Africa, reaching their climax in the first decade of this century. These issues gave rise to serious differences in public policy approaches aimed at addressing the ravages of these diseases. Against this backdrop of controversy and deep divisions, the Academy report dispelled the myth that poverty and under/malnutrition was the cause of AIDS and not HIV infection. The report has been widely acclaimed as an example of the value of independent Academy advice based on scientific evidence. It is used as a reference source in many university courses.

The study panel was chaired by Prof Barry Mendelow, University of Witwatersrand/NHLS and included the following panel members:

  • Dr Peter Cegielski, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Dr Ali Dhansay, South African Medical Research Council
  • Prof Wieland Gevers, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Clive Gray, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Glenda Gray, South African Medical Research Council
  • Dr Liesl Grobler, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Gregory Hussey, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof David McMurray, US-Japan Cooperative Medical Sciences Program
  • Prof Gernard Msamanga, Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences,Tanzania
  • Prof Dan Ncayiyana, Benguela Health
  • Prof Helen Rees, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Dr Francois Venter, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Jimmy Volmink, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Esté Vorster, North West University

Current studies are: 

Health Professional Education

ASSAf is undertaking a consensus study on “Reconceptualising Health Professional Education and Training in South Africa”. The study panel, under the chairmanship of Prof Jimmy Volmink, commenced its work in January 2014. Other panel members are:

  • Prof Sabiha Essack, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)
  • Dr Lionel Green-Thompson, University of Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Dr Gustaaf Wolvaardt, Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) 
  • Prof Judith Bruce, University of Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Prof Ben van Heerden, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Steve Reid, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Khaya Mfenyana, Walter Sisulu University
  • Prof Henry de Holanda Campos, Universidade Federal do Ceara, Brazil   
  • Prof Jan de Maeseneer, Ghent University, Belgium

The study aims to provide a consensus view on the education and training of health professionals and other health care workers in South Africa in order to consolidate current efforts and enhance new efforts to address the severe quantitative and qualitative shortfall in the health workforce.

Improved Mental Health Care

ASSAf is undertaking a consensus study on "Provider Core Competencies for Improved Mental Health Care of the Nation. The Chairperson of the study panel is Prof Rita Thom from the University of Witwatersrand. The other panel members are: 

  • Dr Robin Allen, Department of Health (DoH)
  • Prof Eve Duncan, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Dr Taskeen Khan, World Health Organisation, South Africa
  • Prof Crick Lund, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Prof Bronwyn Myers, Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Prof Solomon Rataemane, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University
  • Prof Inge Petersen, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)

Symposia and Conferences

One of the strengths of academies is their convening power, and their ability to attract a diverse range of stakeholders drawn from academia, the government and private sector and civil society. ASSAf has hosted many symposia on a wide range of topics of critical importance to both South Africa and the continent.

Preventing a Tobacco Epidemic in Africa 

ASSAf participated in a collaborative effort with seven other African science academies to produce a report on tobacco use in Africa. Without comprehensive tobacco prevention and control policies, it is estimated that smoking prevalence in the African region will increase by nearly 39 % by 2030 – the largest expected regional increase globally. The report made a number of key recommendations to reduce the current and future health impacts of tobacco use.

The report was launched at a Southern African Development Community (SADC) workshop hosted by ASSAf in March 2014 in Johannesburg. The report was also presented at an African First Ladies Conference in Windhoek, Namibia in July 2014.

Mental, Neurological and Substance Use (MNS) Disorders

ASSAf hosted a symposium in May 2014 on MNS disorders. The key objective was to explore how South Africa could implement most effectively the core competencies that had been developed for MNS disorders. A wide range of representatives from academia, government and civil society attended and contributed to the discussion.

A proceedings report entitled “Implementation of Core Competencies for Mental, Neurological and Substance Use Disorders” was published in December 2014.

Non-communicable Diseases

Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) are one of the most critical health challenges facing the global community, responsible for over 60% of all deaths, killing more than 36 million people each year. Some 80% of all NCD deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

ASSAf hosted the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP) General Assembly and international scientific conference on NCDs in August 2013. The conference was attended by 148 participants from around the world. The conference programme was divided into 9 themes namely: Poverty and NCDs; Science of Prevention; Targeting Individual Risk Behaviours; Cancer; Cutting Edge Science; Prevention and Management of Diabetes; Prevention and Management of Hypertension-related NCDs; Response of Health Systems to NCD Challenges and the RSA Nutrition Survey Results, and a science policy roundtable. A keynote address on NCDs in South Africa was presented by Ms Malebona Precious Matsoso, Director General, National Department of Health.

The proceedings report entitled “Changing Patterns of Non-communicable Diseases” was published in March 2014.

HIV/AIDS in Africa 

The IOM report entitled “Preparing for the Future of HIV/AIDS in Africa: A Shared Responsibility” was localised at a meeting of Southern African Community Development (SADC) representatives in September 2011 and a subsequent proceedings report published in May 2012.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (TB) 

An estimated 2 billion people, one-third of the global population, are infected with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, with 1.8 million people dying each year. Aggravating the problem is the growing threat of drug-resistant strains of the disease in many parts of the world.

ASSAf collaborated with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in hosting two workshops on drug-resistant TB in March 2010 and June 2011. A workshop proceedings report entitled “The Emerging Threat of Drug-resistant Tuberculosis in Southern Africa: Global and Local Challenges and Solutions” was launched at the Groundbreaking Symposium for the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) in July 2011.

Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) in Africa 

The policymakers’ booklet entitled “Science in Action: Saving the Lives of Africa’s Mothers, Newborns, and Children” presented an overview of the current status of MNCH in sub-Saharan Africa and reported a new analysis of how many lives could be saved if science translated into action through health systems. The booklet was prepared for the annual African Science Academies Development Initiative (ASADI) conference in 2009 and launched in Accra, Ghana in November 2009.

The precursor to the publication was a two-day workshop hosted by ASSAf. The main objective of the workshop was to advance the content of the publication on evidence and research gaps for MNCH interventions in Africa and this was done through presentations done by both South African experts and experts from other countries.

In June 2010 two journal articles, based on the booklet, were published in PLoS Medicine.

Article 1

Article 2