Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Mosa Moshabela has been working behind the scenes to research the virus that causes COVID-19, educate the public and support the National Department of Health and Provincial Government in South Africa.
Listen: Prof Mosa Moshabela explains his work in setting up a COVID-19 war room in KwaZulu-Natal and tackling the pandemic head on:
Before COVID-19 reached South Africa in March 2020, Professor Mosa Moshabela had already seen first-hand how the virus had affected people in Asia.
"In February 2020, I was in Singapore and witnessed them go from a state where there was no local transmission to where they began to shut down the city," says the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
He returned to South Africa and self-isolated for two weeks. "I realised at that time how hard this was going to be. Because of that experience, I proposed we establish a COVID-19 response team at the university which ended up supporting the province."
Discovery Foundation alumnus leads the fight against COVID-19
In 2009, Prof Moshabela received a Discovery Foundation Academic Fellowship Award to pursue his PhD in public health. He investigated how people living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa used and engaged with healthcare systems.
"I was speaking at a World Aids Day event in 2019, oblivious to what was coming" - Professor Mosa Moshabela
A decade later, the professor of public health was staring down a new pandemic.
"Right at the beginning, on 3 March 2020, even before we had our first case, we launched a COVID-19 war room at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and I was the project leader. It was designed to find ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 among our students and our staff," he explains. Prof Moshabela pays tribute to his fellow professors, doctors and researchers in the war room. "I did not do it on my own, but with their support.
As a research scientist and adviser to the National Department of Health and Provincial Government in South Africa, Prof Moshabela is at the forefront of research, training and educating the public on how to live with COVID-19.
"It meant so much to me to make the science accessible and simplify it with everyday examples that people could understand," he says. "We managed to help so many people understand what they needed to do to protect themselves in a relatively short time."
Death of healthcare workers most painful
Prof Moshabela shares how the first wave of COVID-19 affected him. "After the first wave, I had to take two weeks' leave. I was burnt out. I was physically exhausted. For me the most painful aspect of the pandemic was every death of a healthcare worker."
Again, his experience drove him to take action. "I knew that many of our healthcare workers were going to go through burnout as well. That's when I got involved in national surveys to try to support national healthcare workers to make sure that we could limit the impact."
"Let's get back to a degree of normality"
Prof Moshabela is excited to get the vaccine against COVID-19. "The first chance I have to get vaccinated, I'll use it. It will reduce a lot of my anxiety once I know I have immunity enhanced against COVID-19."
For now, he is waiting his turn behind front-line healthcare workers. "They really deserve to get vaccinated first. They were the vanguard of our COVID-19 response because our health system really relies on them."
His message to all South Africans? "I hope that all our people in this country will get the vaccine," he says. "The COVID-19 vaccines that South Africa has chosen are safe. Let's get back to a degree of normality."