World-acclaimed medical expert, Professor Helen Rees, has been recognised by the French government for her outstanding medical career and commitment to improving global health with a focus on public health in Africa. The prestigious award L’ordre national du Mérite (National Order of Merit) was conferred by the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron.
Professor Rees is the founder and current executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) and has been at the forefront of a number of ground breaking initiatives in the health sector. The National Order of Merit is a French award founded in 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle and is the second most prestigious national Order after the Legion of Honour. Its purpose is to reward “distinguished merit.” Professor Rees is widely seen as a deserving recipient of this award given her outstanding contribution to the South African and African continent health sector.
Reese – An internationally recognised health expert
The Wits RHI is the largest research Institute at Wits University with over 2 000 staff members. Professor Rees is internationally recognised who has dedicated her professional career to improving global health with a special focus on public health in Africa. Over the years, Prof Reese had received numerous national and international awards for her contribution to science and health sectors. These include the Officer of the British Empire awarded for her contribution to global health and the Order of the Baobab, one of South Africa’s highest honours, for her contribution to the health of women and children. Because of her global reputation and prominence she has been approached to serve on various global health and scientific bodies or committees.
Organisations on which Prof Reese serves
Professor is currently chairing the Board of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority and the World Health Organization’s AFRO Region Immunization Technical Advisory Group. She also serves in other distinguished bodies, among others:
- As a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines
- chairing the MAC COVID-19 Variant and Vaccines Technical Working Group
- working extensively with WHO and other institutions in Africa as chair of WHO’s African Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation
- involved with the oversight of the COVAX facility, GAVI, CEPI and WHO
- as member of the COVAX committee on Covid-19 maternal immunisation and of the WHO IHR Emergency Committee on Covid-19
- a Personal Professor in Wits’ Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and co-founder/ co-director of African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise – Wits University’s flagship vaccinology programme
- as part of the WHO Expert Committee on Covid-19 vaccines and
- as member of WHO’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards.
Prof Rees also chairs the WHO’s International Health Regulation Polio Emergency Committee and co-chairs the WHO SAGE Working Group on Ebola Vaccines. She is a member of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation Board and chairs the GAVI Programme and Policy Committee. She is also a member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation Board and chairs the CEPI Scientific Advisory Committee.
Prof Reese’s qualifications
Prof Rees boasts a string of qualifications including a Medical Degree and a Masters in Social and Political Sciences from Murray Edwards College at Cambridge University, where she is an Honorary Fellow. She is also an alumnus of Harvard Business School. Not only is she an accomplished academic and a medical expert, but has admirable struggle credentials as anti-apartheid and women’s health activist and clinician based in Alexandra Township, throughout South Africa’s turbulent 1980’s.