You are here: Home Other Health Departments National Dept. Of Health Speech by the Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Gwen Ramokgopa at the research day for the Science Faculty of the University of Pretoria

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Speech by the Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Gwen Ramokgopa at the research day for the Science Faculty of the University of Pretoria

Prof Eric Buch , the Dean of the Health Sciences Faculty, Prof T de Jager, The Deputy Dean of Research , Professors, Academics , Researchers , Students Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Afternoon !

I thank the University of Pretoria and in particular Prof Erich Buch for the kind invitation to participate in this Health Sciences Faculty Reseach Day 2013. Globally , Academic institutions set themselves apart as world class centres of excellence by the innovations and scientific breakthroughs contributed by their community, including students and alumni`s, to the resolution of problems faced by their society and to the overall advancement of humanity. I wish to congradulate the Faculty for prioritising research in health and investing in developing skills in the area of health knowledge generation and innovation in basic sciences , clinical medicine as well as in public health.

The Department of Health was encouraged that a study to measure South Africa’s scientific performance during 2000 – 2010 found that research publications in the country were on the increase , on the verge of its highest contribution in history and further that there was a shift towards health science fields. What we however became concerned about and needed to unravel was why despite these good news the country did not perform as well as expected in terms of the effectiveness of the health system and health outcomes during the same period of study. What remained questionable was on one hand, the relevance of the health science publications to health needs of the population and on the hand, the ability of the Health System to translate this knowledge into policy and practice. Closing this gap between scientific enquiry and health outcomes is a key strategic priority we have adopted and have established Statutory National Health Research Committee whose tasks amongst others is to set the Health Research Agenda for the country .

From time immemorial society has looked to universities as pace setters for human development and advancement in various areas including in health . This call from being ivory towers to knowledge translation institutions is even more pronounced today as the health sector looks for better , faster and cheaper solutions to emerging and re- emerging health problems. Evidence-based knowledge should then translate and contribute to evidence based policies and practices that yield improved performance of health systems.

Despite the gaps that still exist , it is from the evidence presented by scientific research and innovation in health that today we can boast of significant progress we have made in controlling the disease burden in a number of areas in South Africa since the advent of democracy in 1994. I must hasten to say that we remain proud of the contributions that South African Health Scientists have made even prior the democratic era such as in the first successful heart transplant , CT Scan technology , the Partogram and many others. We must also however acknowledge the fact that despite the resources available the existance of indeginous knowledge systems over three centuaries the Colonial and Apartheid Systems repressively and deliberately disinvested in the capabilities of over 80% of the population and left a huge burden of underdevelopment and disease that wdiseases all begun to redress. On the eve of the 20th Anniversary of our democracy the environment of Peace , Justice and Development have enabled our nation to improve her health , in particular to address significant socio- economic determinants for ill-health on children, women , youth ,workers and the population at large.

Child health has significantly improved, with morbidity and mortality from severe malnutrition and preventable diseases like measles, malaria and diarrhea substantially reduced and on the verge of elimination. Just between 2008 and 2011 the under five mortality rate reduced by from 56 to 42 per 1000 live births. The recent South African Nutrition and Health Study funded by the Department which was released by Human Science Research Council Study a few weeks ago also revealled that food forticication has also contributed to better child health. ..........The introduction of the Rora virus vaccine has also resulted in some dedicated child rehydration wards in hospitals to be closed. .........Within a period of three years we have managed to use available scientific knowledge to effectively stop the upwards trend a relatively new epidemic in human history , the HIV/AIDS epidemic. .........Whilst the fight against the TB epidemic remains daunting the innovation in diagnostic technology, the gene expert machine, that has reduced the turnaround time from weeks to only two hours has begun to make an impact. .......

We are happy that South Africans are living longer with life expectancy having increased from 56,5 years to 60years between 2009 and 2011. Indeed we are deeply concerned by the Maternal Mortality rate that remains stubbornly high at 333 per 10 000.

Ladies and Gentlemen , we have leveraged on the available scientific knowledge from local and international researchers and experts. We however believe that with the appropriate alignment of research priorities by local scientists more could have been done earlier and much more can be achieved . Whilst we also acknowledge that many of local researchers successfully bid for global funds we must remain focussed on national needs and mutual benefits . We cannot have under- resources and developing countries capacity being bought by rich countries to solve their priorities and neglect the priority needs of the poorer nations. In health the AID Effecitivenss Policy as outlined by the Paris declaration establishes a fair plaing field in this regard. South Africa has much less researchers as in PhD`s compared to amongst other countries even in our region , Uganda is one case in point. ...........

Compatriots and Friends, over 40% of PHC level facilities, including Maternity Obstetrics Units , have been built and resourced and secondary and tertiary services strengthened as referral nodes. To build on this progress we have established District Specialist Teams to support the program of re- engineering PHC to provide more affordable effective better quality care within clinical , preventative and health promotive settings. There is a greater worldwide demand , including in the developed countries, that evidence based medicines should demostrate its value to society by passing the test towards more healthier citizens and communities . We invite universities to consider these district specialists and experts as strategic partners for clinical and public health research, including disease surveillance where it matters most , at community level. In this way universities and research institutions will be better informed about their country and her people and better able to contribute to relevant research activities and publications that will make a greater difference .

Of course collaboration is also critical to inform national policy and legislation because we believe that it is through regulatory interventions against tobacco marketing that oesophegeal and lung cancers are on the decline in our country. We needed to act decisively now that we are aware from various studies some of you are involved in , that we are facing an emerging epidemic of non communicable diseases like hypertension , diabetes , cancers and indeed mental illness. In this regard we have passed regulations on fat and salt levels in food sold to the public. We look forward to your further inputs in optimizing clinical management of these illnesses and in the surveillance to monitor the progress we are making as a nation. I am particulaly excited that the University of Pretoria has also begun developing capacity in Genomics. Genomics must enable us to understand better why other patients are vulnerable and responsive to certain illnesses and treatments respectively. Genomics is the science of the future that holds opportunity for great breakthroughs in the field of medicine.

We would like to remind those of this esteemed audience that were participants at the 2011 summit on health research priorities for South Africa that consensus was reached on a number of issues.

This consensus includes that whatever resources and efforts we invest into research and innovation in health we will of priority , focus on areas that will help us to reduce the quadruple disease burden and optimise the health of the South African people . Collaboration at regional and international levels must ensure that South Africa contributes for the mutual benefit of humanity especially the developing countries.

Another area of consensus area relates to the need to address the concern over the limited numbers of health researchers in the country. Working together with the National Health Committee and the Medical Research Council , we established `The National Health Scholars Programme’ for PhD post-doctoral fellowship mid-career research posts and research chairs in all healthcare fields. The Programme is currently active as it has already made the 2nd call on research in HIV and AIDS & TB.

Other areas of consensus were on ensuring we accelerate the pace towards 2% Funding of Health Research and improving Health Research Infrastructure as well strengthening Monitoring, Evaluation and Surveillance Systems, building capacity for the Research Planning and Translation and the effectiveness of the National Regulatory Framework.

I cannot over emphasise the fact that Academic institutions and Science Councils are integral and crucial to the effectiveness and relevance of the national health research and innovation system.Universities are regarded as institutions that can respond to health problems by: - - Re-ordering academic priorities to accord due recognition to primary health problems; - Broadening and aligning services and research interests to the health concerns of society; - Developing a broad-based curricula coherently related to current problem; - Developing mutual beneficial academic linkages with similar institutions at national , regional, multilateral and international levels; and - Helping countries to achieve a minimum level of research capacity

Program director , let me salute the University of Pretoria Health Sciences Faculty for being one of the centres of excellence in research and innovation . The Ministry also appreciates partnership in the clinical services provided as well as in the development of health scientist. We have made progress but we still have a long way to go towards strengthening synergies as we together modernize the health system to be more responsive , more affordable and more effective towards for a more healthier society.

I thank you for your attention and wish you well with the rest of the Research Day!



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