Director of SAMRC extramural research unit appointed Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University

Prof Shabir Madhi, Director of the SAMRC Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA) has been appointed the new Dean of Wits University’s Faculty of Health Sciences for the next five years – effective from 1 January 2021.

His association with the University dates back to 1985 when he first enrolled as a medical student – and little did he know at the time that thirty-five years later he’d be leading a faculty recognised to be among the top two Faculties of Health Sciences in Africa. Madhi undertook all his post-graduate specialist training as a paediatrician, a critical care intensivist, subsequent infectious disease specialist, and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at the University.

He is no stranger to the management corridors of Wits – he grew through its ranks, having occupied several positions before his most recent of Professor of Vaccinology within the School of Pathology.

Without giving details of his five-year tenure, Madhi says he intends to continue the tradition of excellence at what he refers to as “a prestigious Faculty situated in a University that is consistently ranked amongst the top two in Africa, and among the top 250 globally”.

“My goals are driven by a desire to see the Faculty transformed into an institution that is research intensive, embraces 4IR and associated technologies, is afro-centric in outlook, collaborations and leadership, and is competitive and innovative across all training and teaching platforms”, he said.

Madhi has been in the forefront of the country’s fight against Covid-19 since it hit our shores early last year. Having served in the first Ministerial Advisory Committee, his prominence also intensified when he led the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial launched in June last year, in association with University of Oxford and the Jenner Institute – the first in Africa at the time.

On lessons learnt from the fight against Covid-19, Madhi acknowledges that without a doubt the year 2020 was one that will forever be imprinted in our memories as it was a year that saw tremendous upheaval throughout the country on a social, economic, and health front.

“However, while COVID-19 has had devastating consequences both locally and abroad, it is also important to recognise and appreciate the opportunities that it has created,” he said.

As global leader in vaccine development, Prof Madhi wears many hats – in addition to being National Research Foundation A-rated scientist, he is the National Research Foundation/Department of Science and Innovation SARChI Chair in Vaccine Preventable Diseases and he is Co-Director of African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise (ALIVE). He chairs the National Advisory Group on Immunization in South Africa. Madhi was formerly President of the World Society of Infectious Diseases and he is the immediate past Executive Director of South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

In 2016, Madhi received the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership Award for Scientific Leadership and in 2013 he was awarded the SAMRC Lifetime Award Platinum Medal.

As a trained paediatrician, Madhi’s research has focused on the epidemiology and clinical development of vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease. These studies have informed World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on the use of the lifesaving pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and rotavirus vaccine in children, and influenza vaccination of pregnant women.

SAMRC’s President and CEO, Prof Glenda Gray who also served alongside Madhi on the MAC for Covid-19, welcomed the news and congratulated him. “Prof Madhi has made significant contributions to the medical field and public health broadly in South Africa and globally, and moreso in vaccine development and in particular that of Covid-19. This achievement is well deserved,” said Gray.