50 years of groundbreaking research and innovation

To mark our 50th anniversary we collaborated with the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) to publish fifteen peer reviewed articles which highlight the groundbreaking research and innovation by our researchers and the impact of their work, both nationally and globally.

This special publication provides a glimpse of the great depth and diversity of our activities which includes basic laboratory investigations, clinical research and public health studies.

Over the past 50 years, we have made invaluable contributions towards improving the health of the population through the analysis and interpretation of mortality and morbidity data. We play a pivotal role in improving antenatal and intrapartum care and monitoring maternal, neonatal and under-5 mortality rates in South Africa, serving as a key information source for the National Department of Health.

In HIV research, we have made significant contributions to biomedical prevention modalities such as oral and topical microbicides, preventing and treating paediatric HIV infection and are undertaking pivotal HIV vaccine trials.  We have influenced the understanding of the epidemiology of TB, development of new diagnostics, provided new insight into biomarkers of disease, and translated human diagnostics for wild-life conservation. 

Our research partnerships with several African countries has boosted malaria elimination efforts on the continent. Our scientists are also making critical contributions to building an evidence base for health systems strengthening in South Africa and globally, thereby supporting efforts to achieve universal health coverage.

In the area of environmental health, our research evidence has contributed to the phasing out of leaded petrol and  restrictions on lead in paint and we are looking to provide recommendations on coping mechanisms needed in all sectors of society and at all levels of governance to prepare for climate change health-related impacts.

There was a significant decline in mortality from interpersonal violence between 1997 and 2012, and research conducted by our researchers have ascribed much of this decline to a decrease in firearm homicide. We have contributed substantially to the growing field of alcohol research and have pointed to gaps in areas such as alcohol policy evaluation, alcohol and its association with TB and cancer, and interventional research.

I am pleased to have been invited to write the editorial for this special issue of the SAMJ marking our 50 years of responsive medical research and health care innovation.

As we reflect on the past 50 years we look forward to building the next generation of research leaders and thereby contribute to the long-term sustainability of the country’s health research.

Professor Glenda E. Gray
President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council