Changes to South Africa’s coronavirus advisors

 ·29 Sep 2020

Health minister Zweli Mkhize says he has not disbanded government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on the coronavirus, but instead strengthened it.

Some members of the MAC on Covid-19 were advised by letter this week that the group is being reconfigured. The ‘disbanding’ follows Mkhize’s announcement on 14 September that he would reconstitute the committee, News24 reported this weekend, citing the letter.

However, Mkhize explained that the MAC requires strengthening to ensure that it is able to address gaps and target new challenges.

“As we find ourselves in an extremely fortunate position of achieving effective transmission control, the true test lies in our ability to maintain low transmission rates,” he said.

“This requires a more holistic approach to case management, preventive measures and public policy. It, therefore, became necessary to strengthen the MAC on Covid-19 so that it falls in line with its mandate to advise on effective mechanisms for the prevention of onward transmission of Covid-19.”

Recognizing that the composition of the current MAC was focused on a biomedical approach, Mkhize said that he has taken a decision to augment the existing committee with various other experts from different sectors.

He said that the reinforced MAC on Covid-19 consists of:

  • Bio-medical practitioners;
  • Clinical experts;
  • Specialists in ethics;
  • The nursing profession;
  • Social scientists;
  • Researchers;
  • Community leaders.

Dr Mkhize said that these researchers will advise on interventions that should be considered in responding to the epidemic and to influence the behavioural change that is required to mitigate against the spread of Covid-19.

The minister said that strengthened MAC will still maintain a degree of continuity, retaining many of the experts from the original clinical-biomedical MAC, including the incumbent chair prof Abdool-Karim, prof Marc Mendelson, prof Sthembiso Mkhize, prof Rudo Mathivha and prof Nombulelo Magula, among others.

He said that the notion that the MAC was ‘disbanded’  because he does not want to heed its advice is not true.

“The fact is that the minister accepted and implemented almost all (more than 95%) of the advisories from the MAC on Covid-19 and, in the interest of transparency, published the advisories digitally despite there being no legal obligation to do so.

“Where there was divergence from the advisory, this was due to the minister and government having to consider factors and/ or in-puts from other stakeholders. Those who persist that government has not heeded the advice from the MAC on Covid-19 are dishonest and intent on misleading the public.”

The minister outlined the new MAC councils in more detail below:

 Ministerial Advisory Committee on coronavirus vaccines

  • Professor Barry Schoub;
  • Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO Biova;
  • Ms Glaudina Loots, Department of Science and Technology;
  • Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, CEO South African Health Products Authority;
  • Prof Greg Hussey, Vaccines for Africa (UCT);
  • Prof Jeff Mphahlele, MRC, Immunologist and SAHPRA Board Member;
  • Prof Helen Rees, WHO Expert Advisor;
  • Prof Ames Dhai, Ethicist;
  • Dr Mark Blecher, National Treasury.

As observers in this MAC are:

  • Prof Salim Abdool Karim, Chair MAC on Covid-19;
  •  Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Chair MAC Social and Behavioral Change.

Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19

Read: How lockdown could work if there’s a second wave of Covid-19 infections in South Africa

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