The official launch of the four New Extramural Research Units was held at the Premier Hotel OR Tambo in Johannesburg on Monday, 22 August 2022. This momentous occasion was launched virtually by the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo under the theme Strengthening the health Systems of the Country. 

Prof Pascal Bessong (2nd from right: front row) pose for a photo with other directors of EMUs, the SAMRC President and CEO, Prof Glenda Gray (far right: back row), Dr Bernard Nthambeleni: 3rd from right back row, Prof Nosisi Feza (middle: back row and other executives from other institutions 

When welcoming the guests at the launch, SAMRC President and CEO, Prof Glenda Gray said the launch of these four new Extramural Units (EMUs), is an extension of the many interventions by the SAMRC to respond to the country’s disease burden and pandemics, such as COVID-19. 

The keynote speaker Prof Kelly Chibale, Director of SAMRC/UCT Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit, spoke under the topic ‘The role of SAMRC Extramural Research units in conducting, empowering and promoting research in South Africa 2022 and beyond’. 

All four EMUs will be led by African researchers, who have over the years, made outstanding scientific contributions to advancing science and building the knowledge base in their disciplines. Not only is this aligned to the SAMRC’S long-term goal of increasing support for outstanding scientists engaged in health research, but it also reiterates the commitment to contributing to, and transforming their world class standards and their competitive positions. 

These new additions will expand and complement the already existing 24 other extramural research units and 11 intramural research units, bringing together to a total of 39 research Units at the SAMRC. 

Prof Pascal Bessong – Director -Antimicrobial Resistance and Global Health Research Unit

Prof Pascal Bessong, Director, Antimicrobial Resistance and Global Health Research Unit, is one of the four Directors of new SAMRC Extramural Research Units honored during this event that was organised by South African Medical Research Council. The other three Directors are Prof Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya (UJ), Prof Ntobeko Ntusi (UCT) and Prof Collet Dandara (UCT). The SAMRC/UNIVEN Antimicrobial Resistance and Global Health Research Unit conducts research on microbial, human, and environmental determinants of acquisition and transmission of antimicrobial resistance. The Unit collaborates with community and policy makers to enhance the understanding of the dynamics of antimicrobial resistance for improved antimicrobial resistance stewardship. The Unit’s team is multidisciplinary with investigators from the departments of Applied mathematics, Clinical psychology, Nursing Sciences, Education, Biochemistry and Microbiology, Public Health, and Nutrition at the University of Venda. Partners include investigators from Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, North West University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Emory University, University of Virginia, and Walter Sisulu University. 

Prof Bessong in his overview presentation about the New Extramural Research Unit, said “Apart from laboratory microbial investigations, we need to involve our communities in antimicrobial resistance research. The Unit will drive the engagement, involvement, and mobilisation of communities for participatory research towards mitigating the effects of antimicrobial resistance in our population. The community is central to the mission of our Unit. We thank the SAMRC for recognising the excellent research taking place at the University of Venda, and its contributions in strengthening the health system of the country”. 

Current projects of the Unit include:: Undisclosed antiretroviral exposure and HIV drug resistance; Wastewater-based surveillance and molecular epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in Northern South Africa; and Acquisition of antibiotic-resistant gut bacteria and impact of microbiota. 

Prof Pascal Bessong is a virologist, having trained in South Africa, France, and the United States. He is an experienced Professor with a demonstrated history of working in the higher education sector for more than 17 years. His research focuses on microbiology and investigations for translational science and global health, using innovative approaches and technologies. Specifically, he is interested in viral and human determinants of HIV drug resistance and the sustainability of antiretrovirals towards the UNAIDS 2030 targets on viral suppression. He is also interested in the interactions of gut microbiota and antimicrobial resistance, the interactions of gut infections with growth, cognitive development, and vaccine response in young children. Prof Bessong has more than 15 years of experience in the establishment and maintenance of prospective, community-based birth and adult cohorts for observational biomedical investigations. 

A former Head of the University of Venda’s Department of Microbiology, he is the principal investigator of the AIDS Virus Research Laboratory; founding Head of the HIV/AIDS and Global Research Programme; a Visiting Scholar at the School of Medicine, University of Virginia; and Honorary Professor at the Faculty of Health Science, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Prof Bessong is a C1-rated scientist of the National Research Foundation (2017); an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa; a Registered Natural professional Scientist; and an Associate Editor of the South African Journal of Science (Cell, molecular biology, and Health). He is passionate about the public understanding of science and maintains a website and blog at https// as a tool to engage the lay community on our interactions with germs. 

Prof Bessong has published his scientific contributions and opinions in top-tier and influential journals such as Science, PNAS, The Lancet HIV, PLOS Medicine, Lancet Global Health, BMJ Global Health, Clinical infectious Diseases, and Bulletin of the World Health Organisation. He has hosted visiting scientists on antimicrobial resistance within the framework of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship awards, and the US National Science Foundation fellowships. He has given invited research seminars at institutions in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, and the United States. Prof Bessong has successfully trained more than 60 MSc and PhD students.

UNIVEN team led by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni (3rd from left) accompanied Prof Pascal Bessong (middle)to receive Antimicrobial Resistance and Global Health Research Unit plaque 


Issued by:
Department of Marketing, Branding & Communication
University of Venda
Tel: (015) 962 8525 /8710
Date: 23 August 2022 

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