Helen Rees

Executive Director

MRCGP MB BChir (CANTAB) MA DCH DRCOG D.Sc Medicine (hc) LLD (hc) GCOB OBE Officier de l'Ordre National du Mérite

Helen is the founder and Executive Director of Wits RHI. A medical doctor by profession, Helen is a Personal Professor in the University of the Witwatersrand’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Co-Director of the Wits African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise, Honorary Professor in the Department of Clinical Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where she also had the honour of being the international Heath Clarke lecturer in global health.  She is an Honorary Fellow at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge University, UK. She holds a Doctor of Science (Medicine) honoris causa from the University of London and a Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Rhodes University.

Helen is internationally recognised as an award-winning global health practitioner who has dedicated her professional career to improving public health in Africa, with a focus on vaccine-preventable diseases, HIV and sexual and reproductive health. Helen has served on and chaired many national and global scientific committees and boards. She is the Board chair of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority and Chairs the WHO’s African Regional Technical Advisory Group on Immunization. She is a member of the newly established WHO African Regional Emergency Preparedness and Response Technical Advisory Group and of the newly established Technical Working Group on WHO listed Regulatory Authorities. Helen is recognised as a leader in global health security and has served on and chaired a number of WHO International Health Regulation (IHR) Emergency Committees. She chairs the WHO’s IHR Emergency Committee on Polio and co-chairs the SAGE working group on Ebola Vaccines.  Helen is a member of WHO’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards and a steering committee member of the Coalition for Clinical Research for Pandemics in LMICs. In the field of vaccines Helen chairs the Gavi Vaccine Investment Strategy (VIS) tasked with recommending a priority list for vaccine procurement between 2025-2030 and a separate VIS Committee tasked with advising on the use of specific population platforms for vaccine delivery.  She chairs the MedAccess Board, a global not-for-profit organisation that uses innovative funding mechanisms to support access to neglected therapeutics and diagnostics required in Low Middle Income Countries.

Helen has won many awards over her career for her contribution to global health and to science. Including in 2001 being made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to global health and to the South African health sector.  In 2016 being awarded the South African National Order of the Baobab for her contribution to medical research and the health of women and children. In 2022 being made an Officer of the French National Order of Merit by President Macron for her contribution to global health and to the COVID-19 response. She also received the Platinum South African National Batho Pele Award for excellence for her contribution to the South African COVID-19 response.  In 2005 she received a lifetime award from Amanitare, a pan-African NGO, for her contribution to the health of African women and children, and in 2022 she was named a ‘standout voice’ in African public health by Harvard Public Health.

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