In a bid to strengthen its research outputs and become a world-class and cutting-edge institution, the University of KwaZulu-Natal launched its four research flagships on Wednesday, 5 September 2018.
Introduced at an event held on the Westville campus, the flagships will give UKZN laser focus on research and encourage researchers to work together to produce relevant and impactful research solutions that are globally recognised, encourage transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research and drive economic growth and social upliftment.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), and keynote speaker at the event, urged researchers to focus on African health to improve quality of life on the continent. He said while the health status in South Africa is improving, the government healthcare system is deteriorating, with the private healthcare sector only servicing 16% of the country’s population. Tuberculosis (TB), diabetes, heart diseases and HIV were noted as the top causes of the death in South Africa. While UKZN is doing well in research, Salim said that room remained to make greater impact. He congratulated UKZN Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld; Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath; and Acting Corporate Relations Executive Director, Ms Normah Zondo, for a successful launch as well as the appointment of four Pro-Vice-Chancellors who would head-up the flagships.
The four research flagships are made up of Social Cohesion led by Professor Relebohile Moletsane; African Health led by Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim; Big Data and Informatics led by Professor Francesco Petruccione; and African City of the Future headed by Professor Rob Slotow.
Moletsane said while South Africa is blessed with a rich diversity and human rights-based policy framework, deep inequalities that have serious effects on communities remain. She said her flagship would facilitate research to understand the various factors contributing to and emanate from inequality and develop programmes that address these challenges at institutional, community and societal level.
With the tagline: Saving Lives, the African Health flagship aims to leverage UKZN’s strength of being recognised as a global leader in some priority areas of medical research such as HIV and TB by maximally impacting the five causes of death in South Africa. Quarraisha said this will be done through training and teaching, partnerships with the Department of Health and the South African Medical Research Council through seed research funds and the mentorship science leadership programme. In this regard, funds have been set aside for the training of 10 doctoral, 10 postdoctoral fellowships as well as Master’s students.
Petruccione said the Big Data and Informatics’ flagship – which aims to train students to take advantage of the 4th Industrial Revolution and master the fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres – is relevant to all other research flagships.
Slotow said with the challenges such as congestion, service delivery, infrastructure, food security and pollution, the African City of the Future flagship aims to bring together researchers across the University to work closely with municipalities, provincial and national governments in finding sustainable solutions and develop clear value chains of research leading to policy improvement, planning improvements, implementation improvements, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Words: Sithembile Shabangu
Photographs: Albert Hirasen