Health-People-Places Chair will strengthen UP’s science leadership in Africa

Left: Professor Wanda Markotter, Research Chair at Future Africa: People, Health and Place right: Professor Cheikh Mbow, Director, Future Africa Institute

“A strong focus is mentoring young academics in this transdisciplinary space and expanding resources,” says Prof Wanda Markotter.

Prof Markotter, Director of the UP’s Centre for Viral Zoonoses, has been appointed as Future Africa Research Chair on Health-People-Places.

“The focus of my Chair is to create a platform and opportunities to foster transdisciplinary research focused on a One Health approach. An essential distinction of this Chair compared to existing initiatives is that it is not linked to a specific faculty or a specific research programme,” says Prof Markotter.

“The Chair is focused on an all-inclusive, strategic approach to enhance our overall profile in One Health through transdisciplinary research. This will strengthen direction and communication and increase opportunities within and beyond the institution, focusing on Africa. There is already a significant One Health focus associated with outputs in the UP community.”

She will be the Health-People-Places Chair and a member of the Future Africa institute and campus board until 2026.

UP has invested substantially in the development of the Future Africa Institute to respond to the needs for intensification of transdisciplinary science leadership in Africa. This is also in line with the UP 2025 vision and Africa strategy. The new Research Chair initiative could place the university at the forefront of research development for sustainable development on the continent.

Health-People-Places is one of five research chairs driving these priorities forward and leading and representing Future Africa through research excellence, representation in national and international arenas, engagements in institutional collaborations, policy interactions, strategic planning and evaluation of the relevance of our research activities and communication.

Prof Markotter says her Chair's purpose is not to change any of this but to raise the profile of the initiatives, bring them together, enable them to learn from each other and strategically communicate and plan the way forward, including with external stakeholders. “A strong focus is mentoring young academics in this transdisciplinary space and expanding resources”.

According to UP’s Future Africa Director, Professor Cheikh Mbow, the appointment of Prof Markotter as the Health-People-Places Research Chair is a great moment for Future Africa.

“Prof Markotter is well positioned to drive in-depth research on the requirements and applicability of sustainable solutions that embrace the diversity of knowledge to save lives, secure livelihoods, and prepare for better wellbeing of people in Africa,” says Prof Mbow. “At Future Africa, Prof Markotter will benefit from our pan-African networks to harness valuable lessons for better health for all, improved knowledge management for policy and practice. I wish very good luck to Prof Markotter.”

Within a year of her appointment, Prof Markotter says she believes that Health-People-Places will have established a strategic One Health platform within Future Africa that all UP staff and students can embrace and will be recognised on the continent and globally for excellence. “This must translate into transdisciplinary projects linked to mentoring of young academics and increased resources,” she says.

Her goals for this year include facilitating a One Health strategic, all-inclusive platform that spans all UP faculties, enhances communication and expands transdisciplinary research and resources. This platform would then be expanded nationally, drawing in external stakeholders and strengthening involvement from the rest of the African continent.

During her five year term as a chair, she will identify and initiate mentoring of young academics to continue with these activities and strengthen Health-People-Places’ relationships and communication with policymakers, communities and other external stakeholders.

She says upon receiving the news of her appointment as a Chair, she was overwhelmed at first that UP’s Executive, Future Africa leadership and the Health Sciences faculty leadership have such confidence in her ability to establish and strengthen this platform.

“This has now developed into excitement, and I am delighted to be part of this new opportunity. COVID has really influenced our mindsets on how to approach the future. As a virologist researching potential zoonotic pathogens in bats, I strongly believe that the only way forward is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches and incorporated in the One Health approach.”

Prof Markotter is also a cluster lead for the current UNICEF Future Africa project known as One Health for Change (OHC). It consists of 11 transdisciplinary projects focusing on major health problems such as COVID-19, malaria, zoonoses, food nutrition, climate change, family medicine and plant health.

Author: Xolani Mathibela