Professor Helen Rees GCOB, OBE, MB BChir, MA (CANTAB), MRCGP, DCH, DRCOG mASSAf
Professor Prof Rees is Founder and Executive Director of Wits RHI, the largest research Institute at
Wits with a mandate for multidisciplinary research, health systems strengthening and capacity building, focusing on HIV/TB, vaccine preventable diseases and reproductive health. Prof Rees is a Personal Professor in Wits’ Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Co-Founder/Co-Director of ALIVE (African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise) which is 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. Prof Rees obtained her Medical Degree and Masters in Social and Political Sciences from Murray Edwards College, Cambridge University, where she is now an Honorary Fellow. She is an alumnus of Harvard Business School.
Prof Rees has extensive experience in the field of medicines regulation and is the current chair of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). She has served on numerous international committees relating to medicines regulation and clinical research. Prof Rees has over 250 academic publications, has delivered over 400 invited plenary and keynote addresses, has chaired over 100 national and international scientific and policy committees, and contributed to the organisation of more than 100 conferences. She is Co-Chair of South Africa’s Health Data Advisory and Co-ordination Committee, 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.
Prof Rees is widely recognised for her work as a global health practitioner and has been appointed as chair and member of many international scientific committees and Boards. She 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. Prof Rees 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. Prof Rees has chaired the WHO’s International Health Regulation (IHR) Polio Emergency Committee since 2014, and is a member of the WHO IHR Emergency Committee on COVID-19. She is the Co-Chair of the WHO SAGE Working Group on Ebola Vaccines. Prof Rees 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 Prof Rees is also involved with the oversight of the COVAX facility.
Prof Rees has won many national and international awards for her contribution to global health and to science including being made an Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to global health, and in 2016 being awarded the South African National Order of the Baobab for her contribution to medicine and to medical research. In 2015 Prof Rees was awarded the National Science and Technology Foundations’ Lifetime Achievement Award. She was awarded the 2014 Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship given to a leading scholar who has a sustained a record of outstanding research and intellectual achievement at the highest level. In 2006 she was elected as a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) member, and in 2010 was awarded the SA Academy of Science’s Gold Award for outstanding achievement in scientific thinking to the benefit of society. She was awarded Wits University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award (2012), Wits’ highest research recognition, and Wits Faculty of Health Sciences recognition for dedication and achievement in research (2013). She was the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s 2011 International Heath Clark lecturer awarded to an outstanding global health practitioner. The SA National Research Forum rates her as an outstanding international scientist. She was the first person to receive the SA Department of Science and Technology’s award for the ‘Distinguished Scientist recognized for outstanding contribution to improving the quality of life of women’ (2006).