The tributes to the late Prof. Bongani Mayosi over the past month were consistent in describing his work as directed to serve and benefit people living in poverty. His concern was that diseases of the poor were not receiving enough attention by science and, as a cardiologist, he was committed to contributing to a better understanding of how cardiovascular diseases affect or manifest in those living in poverty. One field to which he made profound contributions was that of rheumatic heart disease – a “disease of poverty” brought on by an easy-to-treat strain of bacteria that affect especially children and young people who grow up in conditions of poverty. Prof. Mayosi’s legacy in this field today stretches from clinics on the Cape Town Flats to the African Union and beyond.
The gap between health research, policy and practice is an enduring challenge in the health system and is impeding efforts to achieve health for all. This has led to global interest in knowledge translation (KT), a field of research that includes examining how research-based knowledge is used (or not) in policy and practice. However, despite its increasingly prolific nature, there is little clarity on how KT functions, especially in African settings. Recognising the need for a more coordinated approach to closing the gap between research, policy and practice, the Western Cape Health Impact Assessment established a project in 2016 to improve how research-based knowledge informs provincial health policy. The initial objective of this project was informed by a study as part of a Masters dissertation in Public Health at UCT’s School of Public Health and Family Medicine (Health Policy and Systems Division).
A recent seminar in the Emerging Researcher Programme focused on community-engaged academic work. Engaged scholarship, adopted as UCT policy in 2012, refers to the utilisation of an academic’s scholarly and/or professional expertise for an intentional public purpose or benefit, which demonstrates engagement with external, non-academic constituencies. Such socially responsive work – whether research or teaching – has its challenges, along with great rewards; some are specific to the Cape Town context, others occur wherever engagement happens. The seminar considered some of these challenges and presented the UCT Knowledge Co-op as a resource to help student researchers and their supervisors deal with (at least some of) them.
Energy sources, their cost to the poor, and the impact of energy usage on the climate – these are key areas of concern for the 21st century. Sustainable Development Goal 7 sets targets for affordable, reliable, sustainable and clean energy, while – at a local level – the National Development Plan maps out South Africa’s transitioning to a low carbon economy by 2030. These are policy areas to which the research of Prof. Harald Winkler, based at UCT’s Energy Research Centre, has contributed at national and international levels for more than a decade. His internationally acclaimed research has shown that the costs of transitioning to low carbon energy need not be a drain on poor households.