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Welcome to Wits RHI

Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation

 Our Leadership


Professor Helen Rees, Executive Director

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Professor Helen Rees is the Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (RHI) of the University of Witwatersrand where she is also a Personal Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Clinical Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and serves on the LSHTM Visiting Committee, having previously been the LSHTM¹s Heath Clark Lecturer. 
She is an Honorary Fellow of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge University. Professor Rees received her Medical Degree and a Master¹s in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University, is an alumnus of Harvard Business School.
Professor Rees is one of South Africa¹s best known women scientists recognised for her contribution to national health policy and to global health. Her expertise spans reproductive health/STIs, HIV prevention and vaccines. Prof Rees serves as a technical expert to many national and international organisations. She is the Chair of the South African Medicines Control Council, a member of the National Advisory Group on Immunisations and a member of the National Health Data Advisory and Coordination Committee.She is the Chair of the WHO Afro Regional Task Force on Immunization having previously chaired the WHO¹s global Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) . She serves on SAGE committees on Measles and Rubella,the SAGE Committee on the Global Vaccine Action Plan and she Co-chairs the SAGE Committee on Ebola Vaccines. She is the Chair of the WHO¹s International Health Regulation¹s Emergency Committee on Polio and chairs the WHO¹s Committee on Maternal Influenza Immunisation, and is a member of the WHO Polio Research Committee.
She serves of the Board of AIDs Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) and on several scientific advisory committees including the NIH¹s HIV Prevention Networks Scientific Advisory Committee, the NIH¹s Advisory Committee on Microbicides, the Population Council¹s Scientific Advisory Group on Microbicides, the Scientific Committee of the International Multipurpose Prevention technology Group,the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Centre for HIV/AIDS Vaccinology, and on the Wellcome Trust¹s Hillemann Lab Scientific Advisory Committee.
Prof Rees has received a number of awards. She recently won the Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution over a Lifetime from the National Science and Technology Foundation.In 2015 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 2012 was awarded the SA Academy of Science¹s Gold Award for outstanding achievement in scientific thinking to the benefit of society.
She was awarded Wits University¹s Vice-Chancellor¹s Research Award (2012), Wits¹ 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 Medicine¹s 2011 International Heath Clark lecturer awarded to an outstanding global health practitioner.
In 2012 she was awarded the South African Medical Association¹s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2013 the SA National Research Forum recognised her as an outstanding international scientist. She was the first person to receive the SA Department of Science and Technology¹s award for the Distinguished Scientist recognized for outstanding contribution to improving the quality of life of women¹ (2006). In 2006 she received an award from a pan African NGO called Amanitare for her contribution to African women and children. In 2001 Queen Elizabeth II made her an Officer of the British Empire for her contribution to global health.


Pro​f Francois Venter, Deputy Executive Director

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Professor Francois Venter is Wits RHI's Deputy Executive Director and lecturer in the Department of Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand. He is the Head of Infectious Diseases at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Prof Venter is on the board of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, which has over 12 000 members in the region.
Prof Venter has expertise in programmatic HIV implementation, especially provision of anti-retroviral therapy, opportunistic infection prophylaxis, human resource allocation, data systems and service integration. He has extensive training experience in these areas and an interest in monitoring and evaluation of clinical interventions, as well as a human rights interest in access to quality care. He has published several operational research studies. He has been part of and continues to participate in several important South African and regional policy-making fora.
Prof Venter was the Chairperson of the 5th SA Aids Conference in 2011. 


Dr Eugene Sickle, Deputy Executive Director: Strategy and Development

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Dr. Eugene Sickle is the Deputy Executive Director focussing on Strategy and Development for Wits RHI. He has a doctoral degree in Synthetic Organic Chemistry from the University of Cape Town and considerable post-doctoral experience in the area of Medicinal Chemistry. After several years in academia he moved to Wits RHI, initially to lead the Institute’s USAID-PEPFAR programme. Dr Sickle is an expert in strategic financial and programme management and the functions of the Strategy and Development Department that he oversees provide an operational foundation that supports the technical work that Wits RHI undertakes. The Department includes teams dealing with Training, Strategy and Communications, Operations, and Grants Management and Development.


DrSinéad Delany-Moretlwe, Director: Research

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Dr Sinéad Delany-Moretlwe is Director of Research at Wits RHI. She trained as a medical doctor at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and obtained both an MSc in International Health and Tropical Medicine and a PhD in Clinical Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
Dr Delany-Moretlwe has an active interest in the prevention and control of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. She has been an investigator on several international multi-centre trials evaluating new technologies for HIV prevention, including genital herpes treatment and novel microbicides. She is currently an investigator on the FACTS 001 multi-centred South African trial of tenofovir 1% gel; and is also involved in research on the prevention of human papilloma virus (HPV) in high HIV-prevalence settings.Dr Delany-Moretlwe is an active post-graduate lecturer, supervisor and examiner in sexual and reproductive health and epidemiology. She has served on national advisory committees and as a technical adviser for WHO. Dr Delany-Moretlwe has received several awards including the Best Emerging Woman Scientist from the South African Department of Science and Technology (2006), and a South African National Research Foundation Thuthuka Award (2006). 


Dr Thesla Palanee, Director: Clinical Trials

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As the Director of Clinical Trials, Dr Thesla Palanee provides strategic and technical leadership and support in the planning, implementation and management of clinical research within Wits RHI. She participates in the development and planning of new research protocols, writing funding proposals and providing guidance on the requirements of local and international regulatory bodies and frameworks.
Dr Palanee holds a BSc Honours degree from the University of Natal and has obtained a Master’s in Medical Science degree cum laude from the University of Natal Medical School, as well as a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of KwaZulu Natal, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. She obtained post-doctoral experience in the Department of Molecular Virology and Bioinformatics at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies based at the University of KwaZulu Natal. She also worked at the HIV Prevention Research Unit of the Medical Research Council in Durban as a S​​cientist and a Specialist Scientist before joining Wits RHI in May 2009 as Technical Adviser, Clinical Research Management. She then became the Technical Head of Network Trials, Research Centre Programmes until her appointment as the Director of Clinical Trials in 2011.

Dr Lee Fairlie, Director: Child & Adolescent Health

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Lee Fairlie is the Director of Child and Adolescent Health at Wits RHI. She qualified as a paediatrician in 2005 and completed her MMED Paediatrics in 2014. She has significant experience in managing paediatric and adolescent HIV and co-morbidities, including TB.
She has worked as a clinician in paediatric HIV since 2006 and as a specialist at Harriet Shezi Children’s Clinic, Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital since 2007. Since 2013 she has led the Shandukani Clinical Research Site which runs NIAID trial through the International Maternal and Paediatric AIDS Clinical Trials group (IMPAACT) Network and non-NIAID clinical trials related to paediatric and adolescent HIV, women’s health and paediatric infectious diseases and prevention, including vaccine studies. Lee serves as a committee member of the IMPAACT Treatment Scientific Committee and is a member of the IMPAACT P1090 protocol team. She also leads a USAID-PEPFAR funded Paediatric Technical Team which strengthens district and sub-district level care for HIV infected and affected women, children and adolescents and serves on national HIV guideline committees for children and adolescents.

Mariette Slabbert, Director: Communications, Operations & Sex Worker
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Mariette Slabbert joined Wits RHI in August 2014 to oversee the sex worker project, the communications department, operations and to assist with new business. These focus areas include involvement in a variety of research projects, including, the TAPS PrEP Demonstration Project in Sex Workers, implementation research on the sex worker population and evaluation of effective communication campaigns. One of her main responsibilities is to manage the logistical and research aspects of operational research on programmes reporting to her.

Mariette has extensive experience in the healthcare industry in various capacities. She was previously Marketing Manager for Afrox Healthcare (now Life Health) and then ART rollout Project Manager at the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD).While at FPD she also lectured to healthcare professionals on practice management, business and operations management, general management and developing academic training programmes. She earlier held the position of Managing Director of Bougainville Private Hospital.
Prior to joining Wits RHI Mariette was Chief Operations Officer at Ndlovu Care Group.Mariette was Principal Investigator on the CHAMP adolescent behaviour change programme, which examines the motivations and barriers to uptake and use of condoms and communication to adopt less risky behaviour.

She was also programme manager of the IPM027 microbicide trial, which tests the efficacy of the Dapivirine vaginal ring in HIV negative women. She is co-investigator on the ITREMA trial. Since 2008 she has acted as co-promotor of four to six Master students annually, from the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Science, Utrecht University, and supervised numerous Dutch medical students from the Netherlands in their practical experience modules. Mariette is a registered pharmacist and holds an MBA from the Herriott Watt Business School, University of Edinburgh.

She is currently enrolled for a PhD at Utrecht University, Netherlands. She has published two articles as first author in international peer reviewed journals and authored three books. Mariette’s multi-disciplinary background positions her to develop creative research agendas which will translate into increased research outputs and publications for Wits RHI. ​

Where we work