Wits collaborates with an international institution to fight infectious diseases

Researchers cooperate to tame the spread of communicable diseases in Africa 

The University of the Witwatersrand has partnered with the University of Dundee in Scotland to explore new pathways to fight infectious diseases — which are caused by the spread of microorganisms.   

The two hosted an online seminar on Wednesday, April 12, that discussed the use of new scientific approaches to tackle communicable diseases in ​​the continent. Furthermore, the institutions are looking at opportunities to collaborate in areas of drug development.

The African continent has been lagging behind first world countries in terms of health care for infectious diseases such as TB, Malaria and Covid-19 — the lack of proper health care facilities and drugs make these diseases difficult to treat. In addition, the region has a higher burden of infectious diseases as compared to other continents. 

The Africa Centre for Communicable Diseases reported in 2019 that the African region has more cases of TB and deaths compared to the rest of the globe. Source: Africa Centre for Communicable Diseases

According to a 2019 report from the World Health Organisation, 37% of people lose productivity due to noncommunicable diseases, while 27% are due to infectious diseases. This essentially means that people are not able to sustain themselves and contribute towards their country’s economy as they are too sick to do anything because of the lack of proper health care systems.  

Professor Lynn Morris, vice-principal at Wits University said they hosted the webinar because they wanted to get a sense of how they can really take this mutual interest in ​​the collaboration of drug development and make it work. The Scotland institution has identified gaps in the healthcare sector and want to contribute to make it to function better, she said.  

Professor Ian Gilbert of the drug discovery unit at the university of Dundee said that they want to “develop drug discovery pathway[s]” for infectious diseases because for many of these illnesses, there’s never been an integrated drug discovery process. He added that they also want to equip the effectiveness in drug discovery. 

The research collaboration aims to take the science and translate it into a clinical opportunity. This means getting new drugs as a cause of treatment to patients to reduce the risk of diseases developing into chronic illnesses— as well as to reduce the huge number of deaths. 

Featured Image: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says taking Truvada on a daily basis reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. Photo: File

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News24 and Groundup share the spoils at the Taco Kuiper Award

Winners topped 29 entries that lifted the lid on the hidden goings-on in the public and private sectors, report Sfundo Parakozov and Sbongile Molambo 

Leslie Jamieson of The Valley Trust, joint winner Ray Joseph and Taco Kuiper Award convenor of judges, Anton Harber at the award ceremony on April 21, 2023. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

A News24 investigation into the assassination of whistleblower Babita Deokaran and a Groundup expose of corruption at the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) are joint winners of the 2023 Taco Kuiper Investigative Journalism Award.

In the documentary, Silenced, Jeff Wicks details how he dug through 60 000 Gauteng health department emails, phone records and company ledgers to continue the work Deokaran had started exposing corruption at Tembisa Hospital, before she was assassinated in August 2021.  

Ray Joseph’s winning entry on the corrupt dealings at the NLC was the latest instalment in an investigation he started several years ago, and that he has tenaciously stuck to, which resulted in the firing of the Commission’s CEO, CFO and board in 2022. 

The 17th edition of the Taco Kuiper Award highlighted the importance of “ensuring the accountability that is the foundation of good governance, democracy and economic prosperity” and had “seen journalists tackle issues at every level of our society”, said Anton Harber, the convenor of the award, at the ceremony held at the Wits Club on April 21. 

The prestigious award, in which the joint winners shared R240 000 and the runners-up got R60 000, are a collaborative effort by the Wits Centre for journalism (WCJ) and The Valley Trust (the fund created by Taco Kuiper before his death in 2004).  

News24 investigative journalist, Jeff Wicks, accepts his award at the Taco Kuiper investigative journalism award. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

Harber said there were 29 entries, which came from 13 different outlets, including an entry from Wits Vuvuzela by student journalist Tannur Anders, now an intern for news agency Thomson Reuters. 

Wicks told Wits Vuvuzela that the Deokaran project was very challenging as it required an incredible amount of data and processing. “I’m very happy to have been honored, especially considering the shortlist and I hope it’s a tribute to the life of Babita Deokaran, who sacrificed herself to fight against corruption.”  

Joseph said investigating the lottery commission took over six years of his life. “This was a dangerous project. I was reported to the State Security Agency, court cases were launched [against me] and my family was attacked. So, to describe this win, I would say it’s wonderful.” 

The TimesLive team of Tankiso Makhetha, Graeme Hoskens and Aaron Hyman secured the runner-up position for their investigation into the murder of 16 people at the Mdlalose Tavern in Soweto.

“The significance of WCJ’s collaboration with The Valley Trust is that they brought the money to the table and their generosity is making this [event] happen”, said Harber, who also announced his retirement from running the award after 17 years.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Joint winners Ray Joseph and Jeff Wicks with The Valley Trust’s Leslie Jamieson and award judge, Anton Harber, at the Wits Club on April 21, 2023. Photo: Sbongile Molambo


#FNBVarsityCup: Wits outguns UJ 

Wits snatches victory against Johannesburg neighbour to gain a spot in the semi-finals of the Under-20 version of the annual competition. 

FNB Wits Young Guns beat FNB University of Johannesburg (UJ) Young Guns 25-19 on Monday, April 4, to advance to the semi-finals of the Varsity Cup Young Guns league.  

Both teams were competitive in the first half with Wits pushing back against UJ, blocking the Orange Army’s advances. But the boys in blue prevailed over the visitors, leading with a score of 15-7 by the break.

Wits’ decent lead was cut short after the restart, as UJ’s flanker Kyle Ehrke scored a try, converted by Kelvin Berriman, earning the visitors seven points. Wits made a comeback with flyhalf Eben Hyman scoring a try. The game quickly got too intense with the UJ side making strong advances, earning them a yellow card. A penalty kick for Wits and a try by UJ Young Guns saw the visitors with a slight edge, 18-19. However, Wits made a comeback with a try five minutes from the final whistle, finishing with a score of 25-19. 

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela after the game, FNB Wits Young Guns head coach Roland Bernard said that he was very happy with the win as the team qualified for the semi-finals. However, he said there were lots of opportunities lost in the game and “would like to change how we play”.  

Wits Young Guns captain Zukhanye Dubulekhwele, affectionately known as ‘Dubs said that the team had put a lot of pressure on themselves and that they should have been more comfortable. He added that going forward they should be “more clinical”, have accuracy and precision. 

UJ’s Berriman said that his team had “good execution, however, we weren’t able to finish”. 

Supporters of the FNB Wits Young Guns came out in their numbers to support their home team. Takalani Madima, a third-year BSc student, said that “It was a close play, and I am happy Wits won, however, the referee’s decisions were questionable.” 

The FNB Wits Young Guns will play on home soil against the University of Cape Town on Monday, April 10 at 16h30.

Wits and UJ engage in a scrum during an FNB Young Guns match at the Wits Rugby Stadium on April 3, 2023. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

FEATURED IMAGE: FNB UJ Young Guns tackle an FNB Wits Young Guns player during the second half of the match. Photo: Sbongile Molambo


Glucose regulation research to explore racial disparities 

Increased cases of obesity and diabetes influence education on the maintenance of glucose levels. 

Philisiwe Ntuli, a Master of Science (MSc) student in Chemical Pathology at Wits University is currently doing research on the possibility of racial disparities in how different people regulate their blood sugar levels. 

Glucose regulation is the process by which levels of blood sugar (glucose) in blood plasma are maintained by the body. 

The study will compare the difference in how the bodies of black and white females respond when “injected” with glucose. Ntuli, said that previous studies overseas were done on animals, and she wants to see if humans will have the same reaction. 

Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition reported in 2022 that 67% of the South African population is pre-diabetic, 22% of the population is diabetic and 11% of the population is non-diabetic. Source: Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition 2022

Ntuli, told Wits Vuvuzela that the study uses normal glycaemic individuals (people who are not diabetic) and analyses data from their pancreatic beta cells. Beta cells produce insulin in the pancreas.  

When glucose is not regulated by the body it can cause long-term effects such as insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes among others.  

In a written statement to Wits Vuvuzela, Dr Marketa Toman, Ntuli’s supervisor said: “Catestatin was suggested by several authors as a potential treatment for hypertension, obesity or type 2 diabetes”. Catestatin is an amino acid which assists in the regulation of glucose in the bloodstream.   

In 2018 the government introduced a Health Promotion Levy (HPL) known as the “sugar tax” in an attempt to reduce obesity and related diseases. 

In an article published by Health-e in 2017, Endocrinologist Dr Sundeep Ruder, said “Our hospitals are too overburdened and under-resourced to cope. Inpatient mortality rates are high from the complications of diabetes and obesity.” 

To reduce the burden on the national health care system and reduce the high rates of chronic diseases in the country, Ntuli, said that prevention is better than cure. Knowing your glucose levels will help you make better choices.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Isotape Geosciences lab has opened up advance scientific research. Photo: Nomvelo Chalumbira/File