The South African Health Technologies Advocacy Coalition (SAHTAC) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 16 and 17 February 2023 at the Cresta Grande Hotel in Cape Town. There were 28 coalition members that attended in person.
The guest speaker, Prof Mushi Matjila Professor, Head Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Cape Town shared a presentation on Health Research Priorities: South Africa, Investing in health research and innovation in South Africa. The coalition took time to review and reflect on the highlights, successes, and challenges of 2022 to draw lessons and develop a workplan for 2023.
There was a session to reflect on global trends, opportunities, and priorities in the Health R&D ecosystem to determine how SAHTAC positioned and aligned accordingly. The highlight of the AGM was the visit to Biovac manufacturing plant to understand and appreciate the strides South Africa has made in vaccines manufacturing and what still needs to be done.
Prof Geoff Setswe, Managing Director, The Aurum Institute Implementation Research Division welcomed members of the coalition to the AGM. He stated that as advocates, SAHTAC has a role to hold government accountable to R&D related commitments and ensuring that science is translated into tangible social and economic benefits for all. He commended the coalition on its efforts to advocate for sustainable Health R&D through the various initiatives in 2022.
Prof Matjila gave a brief background on the National Health Research Committee and it’s mandate. There is a National Health Act 63 of 2003 and this act provides a framework for a structured uniform system within the Republic. Within the Health Act, it prescribes that the Minister must establish a committee known as the National Health Research Committee (NHRC) The NHRC should consist of no more than 15 persons appointed by the Minister.
This comprises of expertise across the health spectrum. The people appointed serve for a term of not more than three years but may be appointed for one or more terms. A member ceases to be a member upon resignation or when requested by the Minister to resign. The NHRC is an advisory committee to the Minister of Health, it makes recommendations and advises the ministry on direction.
Their mandate is to determine the health research to be carried by the public health authorities; to ensure the health research agendas and focus research resources on priority health problems; to develop an integrated national strategy of health research and advise the minister on the application and the implementation thereof. Lastly, they co-ordinate the research activities of the public health authorities.
Health Research Priorities for South Africa
The NHRC must identify and advise the Minister on health research priorities. In identifying health research priorities, the NHRC must take into consideration the following:
1. Burden of Disease
2. Cost-effectiveness of intervention aimed at reducing BOD
3. Availability of human and institutional resources for implementation of intervention at levels closest to the affected communities. We need to ensure research is not concentrated withing the urban areas but are focused to where the communities are.
4. Health needs of vulnerable groups (e.g. women, older persons, children and people with disabilities)
5. Health needs of communities. The focus should be community health. Patience should not travel huge distances to access health facilities.
Kim Cloete from Global Antibiotic Research & Development Partnership (GARDP) highlighted the challenges in antibiotic development for global health. She explained that even the most common infections are becoming more difficult to treat. Nearly 1.3 million people around the world die of antibiotic-resistant infections every year. Many antibiotics are no longer working as bacteria have become resistant to them. The misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is accelerating the process.
She explained that many African countries are already battling with a very high burden of infectious diseases. This increases the risk of transmission of pathogens. Infections have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics that save lives. She further elucidated that newer drugs available in high-income countries are often out of reach and registration of antibiotics is often a complex process.
She described how GARDP is responding to this crisis:
• Addressing the most urgent threats to public health and these are:
• Sepsis in children and newborns
• Serious bacterial infections in adults
• Sexually transmitted infections