Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

Investing R68 million towards Covid-19 research and development activities

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 1, 2021

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Dr Blade Nzimande

The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation has been hard at work since the 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA) to implement what President Cyril Ramaphosa directed the department to do to change the lives of our people.

As the minister, I am responsible for the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Department of Science and Innovation.

We will continue with that task in 2021 to ensure that we respond to the SONA address which focuses on four pillars:

* Defeating the coronavirus pandemic.

* Acceleration of economic recovery; economic reforms to create sustainable jobs and drive inclusive growth.

* Strengthening the state.

* Fighting corruption.

The Department of Science and Innovation invested R68 766 000 towards Covid-19 research and development activities. These funds were approved to support Covid-19 research and development in the areas of diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, surveillance and epidemiology, including genomic epidemiology.

Though Biovac, a bio-pharmaceutical company that is owned by the government through the Department of Science and Innovation, we are currently supporting two studies in the area of vaccines. We are supporting the first study on plant-based manufacturing of antibodies for Covid-19, which aims to facilitate the rapid development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, therapeutic antibodies and diagnostic reagents utilising various expression platforms for advancing the production of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates and reagents to the value of R2.4 million.

We are also supporting the second study, which is aimed at assessing the safety, immunogenicity and efficacy of a Covid-19 vaccine candidate (ChAdOx1 SARS-CoV-2) in South African adults living without HIV, as well as safety and immunogenicity in a small cohort of adults living with HIV to the value of R4.5m.

I am pleased to indicate that we continue to fund the work by the KwaZulu-Natal Research Informatics and Sequencing Programme (Krisp) that led to the finding of the evolutionary characteristics of Sars-CoV-2, which resulted in the detection of the new variant, dubbed 501Y.V2, to the value of R25m.

On the national science and innovation sector, we will be convening a panel of scientists to provide a platform for scientists to share with society what science is saying about the role of vaccination in our fight against Covid- 19.

I will also be convening an Imbizo, through the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) and the National Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities (NIHSS), of social scientists humanities specialists to analyse and come up with concrete suggestions to the government and society on how to deal with the psycho-social impact of Covid-19 on families, communities and society as a whole.

Higher Health, the health, wellness and development-implementing agency of the Department of Higher Education and Training, has been working with other experts, scientists and stakeholders, especially the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), our sister Department of Health, and other agencies, to build comprehensive programmes, systems, controls and infrastructure for our sectoral response to Covid-19. This includes the establishment of guidelines, protocols and capacity building – which is all grounded in science.

At the centre of our sector’s response to the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP), is our development of Skills and Innovation Strategies.

The skills strategy will be implemented through the Department of Higher Education and Training, and the innovation strategy will be implemented through the Department of Science and Innovation.

Through the National List of Occupations in High Demand (OIHD), we have identified skills that we need to produce as a country to realise the key priority interventions of the ERRP.

The list identified that 345 occupations are in high demand out of a total of 1 500 registered in our Organising Framework for Occupations. These occupations are at both high as well as intermediate skills levels.

Central towards this skills production drive is the role that the Technical and Vocational Education will be playing in the production of these skills in collaboration with the private sector, which will ensure that we bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Our Sector Education and Training Authorities (Seta) have also entered a new landscape, which will ensure that work integrated learning, learnerships, artisanal trades and internships are an integral part of preparing our youth to enter the job market.

Our universities will also continue with their role to ensure that we produce high quality research and provide a platform for the discourse we need as a country to prosper.

We will invest in Research Development Innovation (RDI) to revitalise and modernise existing industries. The key sectors supported, mainly through supporting sector master plans, include agriculture, mining and minerals beneficiation, and manufacturing.

In order to strengthen our capacity to deliver services to the public, we have prioritised the deployment of decision-support tools to enhance evidence-informed service delivery decision making. This will ensure that we monitor our performance and that of all our institutions.

We will also use state procurement as a strategic lever to facilitate and stimulate our economy. However, in doing so, we will ensure that we fight corruption and state capture. We will not hesitate to report acts of corruption to law enforcement agencies and take immediate disciplinary action against any of our employees who involve themselves in corrupt practices.

As we strengthen our state capacity, I have also released the Policy Framework to address gender-based violence (GBV) in the Post-School Education and Training System (PSET) after a period of intensive consultation.

This policy framework is in line with the government’s initiatives aimed at combating the GBV pandemic and challenging patriarchal practices in South African society.

Through this policy framework the Department of Higher Education and Training aims to create an enabling environment for the eradication of GBV and instil respect, and the protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

* Nzimande is the Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation.

** The view expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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