Ministerial advisory committee shake-ups strengthen Covid-19 fight, says Mkhize

31 March 2021 - 08:00 By amanda khoza
Health minister Zweli Mkhize updated parliament's health portfolio committee on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution to health workers, vaccine procurement and progress in the country’s vaccination roll-out programme. File photo.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize updated parliament's health portfolio committee on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution to health workers, vaccine procurement and progress in the country’s vaccination roll-out programme. File photo.
Image: GCIS

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has told parliament’s health portfolio committee that changes made in the make-up of the ministerial advisory committees (MAC) were meant to strengthen government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is a change in the leadership, but it is strengthening the committees because we expect more work to be done. Of course issues have stabilised and we are much more comfortable than where we were initially,” said Mkhize on Tuesday evening.

The minister was updating the committee on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution to health workers, vaccine procurement and progress in the country’s vaccination roll-out programme.

After the news that he would be stepping down as chairperson of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, Sunday Times sat down with Prof Salim Abdool Karim to chat about his decision and reflect on the year he's had in the position.

The country’s head of the MAC on Covid-19, Prof Salim Abdool Karim, stepped down from his position earlier this month, saying he needed to devote his attention to science and research.

On the change in leadership, Mkhize said: “We have three ministerial advisory committees that have assisted us to deal with the issue of Covid-19. The one ministerial advisory committee was led by Prof Salim Abdool Karim and co-chaired by Prof Marian Jacobs. These two have led this committee over the last seven to eight months, and a whole year now with Prof Abdool Karim.

“We must say Prof Abdool Karim has been a very outstanding leader. As we all know, he is a top scientist who has towered not just in SA but globally among other scientists and has won numerous awards, even during the time he was at the ministerial advisory committee.”

Mkhize said government and South Africans benefitted greatly from Abdool Karim’s assistance, guidance and depth of knowledge.

“He has requested to be released to go back to the work he has been doing, which relates to research and academic activities. He left some work incomplete and wished to leave as early as September last year.”

Mkhize said he had to persuade Abdool Karim to stay and complete one year with the committee.

“We thank him profusely for his work. He continues to be available to us as we move on.”

Mkhize said Jacobs, also an accomplished researcher who is originally a paediatrician,  was available to continue to co-chair the work of the MAC.

“She has also indicated she has left work which was not completed so she would like to be released at some point in the next few months, but not immediately because she wants to make sure the new leadership gets the support they need.”

Replacing Abdool Karim will be Prof Koleka Mnisana Mlisana, also a medical doctor and microbiologist in training.

“She has worked in a number of areas and is part of a team that supported the National Institute For Communicable Diseases and National Health Laboratory Service and is also part of the ministerial advisory committee..”

Mkhize said the committee was pleased Mlisana accepted the appointment and looked forward to her strong leadership.

Another change, said Mkhize, relates to Prof Barry Schoub, who is chairperson of the MAC on vaccines. Schoub has been moved from the main advisory committee to focus full-time on the vaccines MAC.

“He will not be on the two ministerial advisory committees. There are other members we will add to the ministerial advisory committee. For example, we are bringing in people who have experience in modelling in genomics and other skills.”

Mkhize said government will give further details once all the candidates have been informed.

“The other change that came in is Prof Marc Mendelson. Many of us know him as one of the top clinicians based in the Western Cape. He is going to move from the ministerial advisory committee on antimicrobial resistance.”

Mkhize said lengthy meetings with Mendelson had taken place to discuss that the committee needed to lift its profile so people are aware of the dangers and risks associated with antimicrobial resistance.

“We have agreed that between myself, the deputy minister and the director-general, we will work very closely with this committee to lift its profile and make sure these issues are particularly important, especially since levels of resistance are rising in SA. This is a problem the whole world is facing.”

Another ministerial committee will be led by Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana from the SA Council of Churches along with civil society, churches, traditional leaders and healers.

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