The devastation brought about by COVID-19 and the manner in which South Africa responded to the pandemic has shown how important it is to invest in science to safeguard the nation’s future.
This is according to Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, who tabled the Science and Innovation budget Vote on Tuesday.
“One of the lessons is that investing in science is vital for South Africa’s future and its development.
“Our science and innovation investments made in the past decades led to us building expertise, infrastructure and research capacity needed in our response to when diseases strike.
“This was demonstrated when our national system of innovation (NSI) leveraged our response to the COVID 19 pandemic,” he said.
As the pandemic swept across the world and left death and economic devastation in its wake, South Africa pulled all its resources together to respond to the outbreak through science-driven solutions.
“Collectively, we were able to respond to COVID-19 in a joint effort that would have made Charlotte Maxeke, whose 150th anniversary we celebrate this year, proud.
“These investments and the talent brought into our national system of innovation, led our country to produce premier science that is not only assisting us locally, but also contributing to the global body of knowledge on COVID-19,” Nzimande said.
South Africa’s infrastructure, in response to COVID 19, include the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) which saw local scientists lead investigations into the evolutionary characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and detected a new variant, dubbed 501Y.V2.
There is also the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR) and the South African Biodiversity Institute whose research and development portfolio includes pathogen genomics, and the skills needed in the areas of vaccines, biochemistry, microbiology and genetics, among others.
South Africa has established an indigenous knowledge-based research team that is investigating seven mono-herbal and two multi-herbal medicine formulations with potential relevance to COVID-19.
“We are also collaborating with the North-West University (NWU) to raise public awareness on the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Act.”
Nzimande also said other interventions made include:
– Data modelling, through the CSIR-CMORE situational awareness platform for COVID-19. This provides close to real-time data on the coronavirus outbreak per province, district, local municipality and ward;
– The SA Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN) random sample of household’s research to document the knowledge, behaviour and outcomes of these households in relation to non-pharmaceutical COVID- 19 measures;
– The Human Sciences Research Council surveys to measure the public response to COVID-19 and the effects of lockdown;
– The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) National Ventilator Project; and
– The deployment of hydrogen fuel cell systems in hospitals and medical facilities.
“These infrastructure networks and investments were instrumental in allowing our government to respond quickly and effectively in managing the coronavirus outbreak.
“They also demonstrated our world class competence in identifying variants and keeping science at the foundation of government decisions.”
Cabinet has approved the department’s strategy to drive a multipronged national vaccine production and development strategy to secure the nation’s long-term pandemic preparedness.
“In this regard, [the department] is working closely with Biovac, in which the State has 47% shareholding, to increase the scope of public participation, and leveraging capital investment by domestic private and international vaccine players, to build South Africa’s vaccine production resilience.
“We hope to build strong partnerships with China, Russia and other BRICS partners, as well as European and North American partners. We are particularly pleased at the commitment of expatriates, most notably, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a former graduate of Wits University, to invest in our nation’s future pandemic security.”