Prof. Helen Rees


Professor Helen Rees is the Founder and Executive Director of Wits RHI, the largest research Institute at Wits University with over 2000 staff members. Helen is internationally recognised as an award-winning health practitioner who has dedicated her professional career to improving global health with a focus on public health in Africa. A Personal Professor in Wits’ Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Co-Founder/Co-Director of ALIVE (African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise), Wits University’s flagship vaccinology programme. She is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Clinical Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a Fellow at Cambridge University’s Murray Edwards College.


Helen has over 250 academic publications to her name, 400 invited plenary and keynote addresses, she has chaired over 200 national and international scientific and policy committees, and contributed to the organisation of more than 100 conferences.


Helen has chaired many national and international committees and is currently chair of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, a member of South Africa’s National Advisory Group on Immunization and a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases.  Helen is Chair of the WHO’s African Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group, Chair of WHO’s Emergency Committee on Polio and Co-Chair of WHO’s Working Group on Ebola vaccines.


For the past few years Helen has been very involved in national, regional and global response efforts to COVID-19 including the development of COVID-19 vaccines, their potential rollout and utilization.  Helen is currently a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 and a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines and Chairs the MAC COVID-19 Variant and Vaccines Technical Working Group. Helen is a member of the WHO IHR Emergency Committee on COVID-19. Helen is a member of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi) Board and chairs the Gavi Programme and Policy Committee. She is a member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI) Board and chairs the CEPI Scientific Advisory Committee. She is a member of the COVAX committee on COVID-19 maternal immunisation. and a member of the WHO Working Group on COVID-19 vaccines. With her Gavi, CEPI and WHO are jointly driving the global COVID vaccine effort including the COVAX facility, and Helen is also involved with the oversight of the COVAX facility.


Helen has received many national and international awards for her contribution to African health and global health including being made an Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to global health, and being awarded the Order of the Baobab, one of South Africa’s highest honours, for her contribution to maternal and child health, as well as both Lifetime and Gold awards for her distinguished contribution to science, global health and women’s health by the South African Academy of Science, the South African Medical Association, the South African Department of Science and Technology, BHP Billetin and the Oppenheimer Foundation respectively. She received a lifetime achievement award from the pan-African NGO Amanitare for her contribution to improving the lives of African women and girls. She was made the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s 2014 International Heath Clarke lecturer awarded to an outstanding global health practitioner. Her most recent accolade is being awarded the L’ordre national du Mérite (National Order of Merit) by the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, in recognition of her groundbreaking and outstanding medical career in February 2022 and in March 2022, the South African Ministerial COVID-19 Special Award at the National Batho Pele Excellence Awards in the Platinum Category in recognition of her contributions to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Dr Obakeng Khaole

Vice Chairperson

Dr Obakeng Khaole completed her medical studies at the University of the Free State in 2008. After completing her studies, she worked at various hospitals in different parts of South Africa. She also obtained her post graduate Diploma in HIV Management through the Colleges of Medicine of Southern Africa in 2013. She has always been passionate about the management of Tuberculosis particularly Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. This led to her partaking in numerous studies done and research around new modalities and treatment of both Tuberculosis and Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. Her passion for Tuberculosis has led her to presenting and being a speaker at the 4th South African Tuberculosis Conference held in Durban, South Africa, in 2013.


Obakeng also has a Post graduate Diploma in Occupational Medicine from the University of Pretoria. She sits in a number of expert committee boards as Vice Chairperson- this includes the Independent Tribunal for Social Assistance Appeals and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases. She is also an aspiring lawyer as she is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Laws with the University of South Africa.


Obakeng is still practicing as a Medical Doctor under the Tshwane District Health Services on a contractual basis for the National Health Insurance pilot project.


Mr Itani Mashau

Mr Itani Mashau is a pharmacist by profession. He owns a community pharmacy in Olifantsfontein. He worked in various pharmacy environments: hospital, industrial and community. His Qualifications are Bpharm, Dip Prod Management (Cum Laude), Diploma in Quality Management and Quality Assurance, Master of Business Admin. Certificates in Production management, ISO 9000, GMP and GCP.


He has held positions as Section Head, Clinical Research Associate, International Clinical Research Operations (ICRO) Manager and Director of Clinical, Medical, Regulatory, Quality and Pharmacovigilance departments.


He is results driven as evident from his achievements: Won Employee of the year: 2007 (Pharmaceutical Industry); Improved South Africa’s Clinical Research department global KPIs in first year as ICRO- Manager from ranking 40/44 to 22/44.


Successively obtained index 120 (Exceed target 2006-2013) for clinical trial Balance Score Card (BSC).


He was a member of the senior management team that won the Delloite and Touche Best Company to work for in 2013 (Pharmaceutical).


Ms Ditaba Maraka

Ms Ditaba Maraka is an astute, dynamic, results driven Business Leader with rich experience in the Talent and Organisational Psychology space, having specialised in Education, Human Resources, Mentorship Coaching and Counselling, Psychometry, Leadership, Organisational Design, Facilitation & Training, HR Auditing, Ethics , Talent Management  and Career Development. Her areas of expertise include combining psychological & behavioural insights and accredited on a range of psychometric assessment tools.


Ditaba is an Entrepreneurial self-starter who , with excellent interpersonal and communication skills, avid networking and client relations management, founded, managed and grew organisations in the Management, Education, Training and Development space – Fulloutput Fullgrowth Coaching and Mentorship NPC, has steered the ship of Chililo Trading and Projects cc in the Construction, Training and Development space, was member of the Senior Management Team which assisted in the establishment of the Electronic  Communications Security Services (COMSEC) (Pty) Ltd, a function within the National Intelligence Agency of SA. Spanning four decades of experience in the private & public sector, Ditaba has been exposed to business processes in conferences and workshops at various organizations in South Africa, across Europe (Germany, Switzerland, and Netherlands & London), UAE (Qatar) & South East Asia (Malaysia).


Other achievements include success in Corporate Human Capital Development (HCD) support to various organisations in the South African context: A Chartered Human Resources Professional (CHRP) at the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP), a certified Associate HR Auditor (SABPP) and  Commissioner of Oaths. Ditaba is a Certified Ethics Officer–(EO908 USB-ED: TEI) and operates DL Maraka Psychometrists, an Independent Practice with focus on Psychometric Assessments. She is Accredited Facilitator on a wide range of Assessment tools: JvR (MBTI, Hogan, EQ, META, and EQ-I 2.0); Thomas International (PPA, GIA/TST, TEI-Que, and HPTI); Career Guidance Mindmuzik tools (Independent Contractor with Sci-Bono on Career Guidance Centre); Knowledge Resources Agile HR ICAgile for ICP-AHR.


Past and Current Governance Experience include: Chaired the HR Committee of the Board: Lepelle Northern Water LNW- Member of the Board and Audit Committee; Member of the Board of LIBSA; IIC in the Curriculum Design, Organizational Design, Panel of Experts in ETD at the National School of Government (NSG); Member of the Audit Council of the (SABPP);  Member of the Board of the South African Library for the Blind (SALB-DSAC); Chairperson: HR Committee of the William Humphrey’s Art Gallery (WHAG-DSAC); Classifier of Films, Interactive Computer Games and Certain Publications with the South African Films and Publications Board (FPB); Council Member : The Heraldry Council SA-DSAC; Member: Psychometrics Committee for Professional Board for Psychology (HPCSA); Member of Board of the Gauteng Gambling Board; Member of the Board Of the CBE, Member of Board and Chair of the HRREMCO  at SAHPRA.


Ditaba’s Qualifications and Professional Memberships include :  Bachelors of Arts (UNISA-Education, African Languages, Psychology NDP); Further Diploma in Education (RAU/UJ); Masters Diploma in Human Resources Management (RAU/UJ);Bachelors of Education (UNISA); BA Hons in African Languages (UP);Chartered HR Professional (SABPP);Associate HR Auditor (SABPP);Certified Ethics Officer (University of Stellenbosch -USB-ED in collaboration with The Ethics Institute –TEI SA); Psychometrist –Independent Practice (Health Professions Council of South Africa -HPCSA); COMENSA; IRMSA; Kolbe Profiling Institute –Specialist; Business Ethics network Africa-BEN-Africa; IoDSA (M.Inst.D); Specialist Wellness Counsellors (SWC)-Association for Supportive Counsellors and Holistic Practitioners (ASCHP); Advanced Religious Professional in Christian Pastoral Counselling-ACRP/CPSC.



Prof. Patrick Hulisani Demana

Professor Patrick Hulisani Demana is currently Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Postgraduate Studies and Innovation at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) since September 2019. He joined SMU as the Dean of School of Pharmacy in October 2018. Prior to this, he was a Full Professor and Head of Department of Pharmacy at the University of Limpopo (Turfloop). Prof Demana has worked as a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Pharmacy at Tshwane University of Technology, and also as a Lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand. Apart from academia, he has industrial pharmaceutical experience as he has worked in a number of companies such as Aspen, Sanofi-Aventis, MSD, Be-tabs, and Alliance Pharmaceuticals mainly as a production/manufacturing pharmacist.  He has published widely in the field of pharmaceutics in reputable international peer-reviewed journals specialising in novel drug delivery systems and nanotechnology. He previously received an NRF rating (Y2 research category).


He is currently the Chairperson of the Heads of Schools of Pharmacy under the auspices of South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC), a Task Team Member for SAPC for both Pre-Registration and Professional Exams, Expert Member for SAPC in Pharmaceutics for BPharm accreditation, a Moderator/Examiner for SAPC for Pre-registration and Professional exams, a Member of PSSA, a Member of SAAPI, Task Team Member for the Council on High Education (CHE) for BPharm programme, and Member of the Board of Trustees of SMU Retirement Fund.


Prof. Demana is a past recipient of the Upjohn Outstanding Young Scientist Award from APSSA. He was a member of Pharmaceutical & Analytical (P&A) Committee of the Medicines Control Council (MCC) for 7 years.  Prof Demana holds BSc (Hons) (Pharmacy) degree from Liverpool John Moores University (UK), MSc (Pharmaceutics) from Rhodes University, and PhD (Pharmaceutics) from University of Otago (NZ).


He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the area of drug discovery and development at Emory University (USA) under the tutelage of Prof Dennis Liotta who is the inventor of emtricitabine and zidovudine. Prof Demana currently holds a patent as a co-inventor in medicated chewing gum formulation, and another patent is currently under review in the field of traditional plant remedies.


Adv. Hasina Cassim

After completing her BPharm degree in 1990, Adv Cassim pursued studies in pharmaco-economics (pharmaco-epidemiology, Newcastle University Australia) and completed an executive leadership programme through Oxford’s Said School of Business. She also served on several representative fora such as the PSSA, the PCMA and the Council of Medical Scheme’s committee for the development of algorithms for the PMB-CDL conditions. After completing a certificate course in Medicine and Law through Unisa, she continued with her studies in law and completed her LLB in 2011. In 2015, Adv Cassim joined the Johannesburg Bar having passed the Bar exam for advocates and is an admitted Advocate of the High Court and a qualified mediator.


She has served in various positions in the health sector including hospitals, the pharmaceutical sector, managed healthcare, risk management and as a consultant. Adv Cassim also serves on the Department of Health’s Pricing Committee and has recently been appointed to the SAHPRA board.


Dr Xolani Ngobese

Dr Xolani Ngobese is a registered (M. inst. Directors) and an affiliate member of the Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply (CIPS). Dr Ngobese serves on various boards with over 20 years of experience in governance, performance planning, strategic planning, performance reporting, monitoring and evaluation, policy development, risk management, business development, programme management, project management, procurement and management consulting. He is currently a board member for the Council of Medical Schemes (CMS), a panel member for the National Skills Authority (NSA) tasked to oversee SETA performance and planning and presently a board member for the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).


Additionally, Dr Ngobese holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Management College of Southern Africa and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in management sciences specialising in business administration achieved at the Durban University of Technology and presently completing his Post Graduate Diploma in Supply Chain Management at Regent Business School.


Ms Lerato Mothae

Profile pending


Prof. Joyce Tsoka-Gwegweni

Professor Tsoka-Gwegweni is the current Vice-Dean for Research in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS). Prior to joining UFS, she served as the Acting Dean for the School of Nursing and Public Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Her other previous leadership and management positions include Deputy Dean of the Nelson Mandela Medical School and Acting Head of the Department of Public Health Medicine at UKZN; Content Advisor for the Portfolio Committee on Health in the National Assembly, Parliament of the Republic of South Africa; and Research Manager at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).


She is currently the Chairperson of the UFS Faculty Research and Postgraduate Committee. Previously she was the Chairperson of the Biomedical Research Ethics Committee, and Chairperson of the respective Executive Management and Board of the School of Nursing and Public Health at UKZN. She is also a member of research and scientific review and advisory committees that include the Free State Health Provincial Health Research Committee, the National Health Research Committee, Scientific Sub-Committee of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence for Food Security, Neglected Tropical Diseases Advisory Forum for the National Department of Health, Office of Health Standards Compliance (OHSC) Scientific and Research Technical Task Team, and Sub-Committee for Research of the South African Committee of Medical Deans.


Prof. Tsoka-Gwegweni is an established academic and scientist with more than 27 years of public health research experience and expertise. She concurrently holds positions of an Associate Professor at UFS and Honorary Professor of Public Health at UKZN. Previously she occupied positions of a Senior Scientist and Scientist at the SAMRC. Prof Tsoka-Gwegweni holds a range of qualifications in Public Health, Social and Biological Sciences that include a PhD from UKZN; a Master of Public Health from the University of the Western Cape; a Master of Science from UKZN; a Bachelor of Arts Honours from UNISA; a Bachelor of Science Honours from Reading University, UK; and a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Research Ethics; as well as leadership and management qualifications.


Dr Alfred Kgasi

Dr Alfred Kgasi qualified as a veterinarian from the Medical University of Southern Africa, and has also completed an MSc in Veterinary Science from the University of Pretoria. He strengthened his business administration & leadership skills and graduated with a Master’s degree in Business Leadership (MBL) from the University of South Africa (UNISA). He further went to complete a Bachelors of Laws (LLB) degree. He has spent several years in various sectors of the animal health industry and veterinary profession in both private and public sectors. These included roles in management and leadership in research, business strategy development, community engagement and the veterinary professions regulation. He has also immense experience in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry through having provided technical advice and strategic inputs at various levels in management. He has also served as a Board member where he played a role in fiduciary oversight and good corporate governance. He thus brings a rare combination of skills in science, law and business. Dr Kgasi currently serves as Chair in Primary Animal Health Care at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, at the University of Pretoria. He is also President of the South African Veterinary Council.


Prof. Hannelie Meyer

Professor Hannelie Meyer is a pharmacist by profession with postgraduate qualifications i.e. MSc(Med) and PhD. She is the Programme Coordinator of the MPharm in Public Health Pharmacy and Management, School of Pharmacy, and Head of the South African Vaccination and Immunisation Centre at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU). She has 12 years of experience in community- and institutional pharmacy and 25 years in academia. As an advocate for public health pharmacy, her focus is directed towards strengthening the WHO building block of ‘medical products, technologies and vaccines’, to ensure people have sustained access to, and appropriately use essential medical products, vaccines and technologies that are safe, effective, and of assured quality.


Prof. Meyer chairs the ministerial advisory National Immunisation Safety Expert Committee, and in this capacity, serves on the National Advisory Group on Immunisation. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she worked with the National Department of Health and SAHPRA to establish the COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Surveillance network for South Africa. This included the introduction of the Med Safety App for the reporting of adverse events following immunisation and suspected adverse drug reactions, as part of the African Union Smart Safety Solutions (AU-3S) 10-year programme to strengthen pharmacovigilance across Africa. She currently chairs the AU-3S Joint Signal Management Group, aimed at facilitating cross-country signal management for COVID-19 vaccines in Africa, to support action in the interest of public health and safety.


Prof. Meyer is well established as an academic and researcher. She is a National Research Foundation Category C2 rated scientist and specialises in vaccine safety, vaccination as an important pillar of antimicrobial stewardship, vaccine hesitancy and rational medicine use. She collaborates with researchers across Africa and internationally, has published widely in international peer-reviewed journals, presented multiple peer-reviewed papers at national/international meetings, and has supervised more than 80 postgraduate students to completion. She has been the recipient of various research/academic presentation awards, received two SMU Vice Chancellor’s Research Excellence Awards in 2018 and the Distinguished Community Scholar Excellence Award in 2021. She is a core member of the SMU Research Ethics Committee and is as an active member of various professional societies including the PSSA, SAAHIP, MURIA, SASOCP, ISPE and ISOP.


Ms Mandisa Skhosana

Ms Mandisa Skhosana is currently practicing as a private practitioner in Clinical Pathology and owns a medical laboratory in Durban. She is currently serving as a board member in the Technical Oversight and Regulatory Strategy Committee (TORS) of the SAHPRA Board.


She holds the following qualifications: Master’s Degree in Medical Science from the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), B-Tech Degree in Biomedical Technology (DUT), a Diploma in Biomedical Technology (DUT) and a certificate program in Total Quality Management from UNISA. She passed the professional board of Medical Technology and was registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as a Medical Technologist specialising in Clinical Pathology.


Ms Skhosana has extensive experience in in-vitro diagnostics, clinical trials and in pharmaceutical product development quality control. She has held various positions in public and private laboratories. She spent several years with the Medical Research Council of South Africa, coordinating the implementation of various clinical trials.


Her recent appointment was as a Regional Laboratory Advisor by the Centre for Aids Programmes at the University of Columbia (ICAP at Columbia University), where she was a Technical Advisor for a Multinational Population- based HIV survey in the SADEC Region.


She has served, and continues to serve, in various Business and Professional Associations.


Prof. Yahya Choonara

Professor Yahya E. Choonara is Head of the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, NRF/DSI Research Chair in Pharmaceutical Biomaterials and Polymer-Engineered Drug Delivery Technologies at Wits University and Director and Principal Researcher at the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP) Research Unit. He has over 19 years’ experience in academic teaching (Pharmacy), research and the development of new and upcoming researchers in his area of Pharmaceutics that is focused on targeted drug delivery, nanomedicine, functional biomaterials and regenerative medicine (tissue engineering). His research is at the forefront of producing targeted and personalised medicines to treat infectious, hereditary and lifestyle diseases in which he continues to make a major impact on generating scholarly activity and intellectual property.


He received many prestigious awards recognising his pioneering research in the areas of targeted drug delivery, nanomedicine, drug-eluting devices, neuro-therapeutics and bio-inspired regenerative medicine. As a top cited researcher in the field, he has authored >310 ISI-accredited publications and also serves as Editor/Associate Editor and Reviewer on several high impact-factor journals.


He is passionately committed to supervising and mentoring young researchers in his areas of expertise with >110 postgraduates and postdocs mentored over his career. Many of his students (mentees) are now his colleagues and recipients of prestigious awards/accolades such as GYA and SAYAS Membership, Wits Faculty of Health Sciences’ Most Prestigious PhD Degree Awardees on several occasions, included among M&G’s Top 200 Young South Africans, Research Chairs and selected to serve on a host of global bodies such as the ORCID Researcher Advisory Council, Executive of the Controlled Release Society (CRS, UK) SA Chapter and the IAP Young Physician’s Leader initiative, among many others. Leading by example, he also serves as an expert member making key contributions to many science councils/professions/funding bodies such as the AAS, ASSAF, TWAS, FIP, AAPS, CRS, ACS, SAYAS, SAAPI, PSSA, CLF, NRF, SAMRC, TIA, BRICS, AMATA and the SAPC.


Prof. Choonara has also received the 2021 Wits Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation Award and earlier the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) of South Africa Top Intellectual Property Creator Award as a leading inventor of 43 patents in the pharmaceutical sciences.


Dr Zinhle Makatini

Dr Zinhle Makatini attained an MBChB from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom (UK), with further training in a Biochemistry (BSc Hons) at the University of London (Kings College) and Masters in Immunology of Infectious Diseases at the University of London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. On return to South Africa, Dr Makatini qualified as a specialist and became the country’s first black Clinical Virologist (Pathologist) and has further attained a PhD in Medical Virology.


She is currently the Chair of the Virology Expert Committee, the Secretary of College of Pathologists, Councillor representing Virologists in the College of Medicine as well as the current Vice President of the African Viral Care Society.


Dr Makatini is a long serving member of SAHPRA’s clinical trial committee and Biological Committee where she provides expertise in HIV, Vaccines and Covid-19 amongst others. She has also served as a technical expert for Council of Medical Schemes (CMS) and the South Africa National Accreditation System (SANAS).


She is a Senior Consultant Virologist based at the University of Witwatersrand, department of Virology where she pursues her interest in the training of the country’s future Virologists, diagnostic service and research activities.