COVID-19 has stimulated modern societies, including academia, to rapidly adopt measures to save lives, protect livelihoods and safeguard nature to reduce the risk of future pandemics. The biggest challenge is to balance the sense of urgency—with a small window of opportunity in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis—and long-term solution to prepare society for likely future emergencies such as COVID-19.
The University of Pretoria is exceptionally well-positioned to make a difference through a transdisciplinary, 'One Health' approach that focusses on the interfaces between humans, animals and their various environments. Preparing for the next pandemic involved several faculties and departments including several disciplines: Virology, Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, Environment (Water), Climate change, Economics, Anthropology, Veterinary Sciences, Entomology, Engineering, Mathematical modelling, Law (Human rights), Ecosystem Health, Health Systems and Public Health, Animal Biology, Plant Health, Food Security and Nutrition, Geography, Geology and Meteorology. It also includes research entities specifically the Centre for Viral Zoonoses (UP-CVZ); Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine (ICMM), Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC), Centre for Food Security, Future Africa, Community Orientated Primary Care (UP-COPC) and Environmental Chemical Pollution and Health care. Because of these existing strengths, UP is leading One Health-focused research. Youth empowerment and capacity building are at the core of this response.
The UNICEF's Humanitarian Programme through its flagship programme called "Generation Unlimited" is collaborating with the University of Pretoria on areas that can advance training and skills for the "Youth empowerment under health/economic crisis". The goal is to develop capacity, by empowering future academics by developing a transdisciplinary approach, including disciplines and skills needed, to build evidence that matters to society and decision-makers. In the process, UP created a One Health Workforce; "One Health for Change (UP-OHC)" that will link with other national, regional and international networks. Through transdisciplinary short term research projects mentorship is offered.
Prevention and readiness of future pandemics also require a holistic approach between academics, scientists, societies, governments and Non-profit organizations including national and international partners. Societies/Communities must be the focus, and research must be relevant and shared through communication and education platform. Several outreach activities involving schools, the general public and professionals ensured that UP-OHC communicated "Research that matters".
UP-OHC held a competition to challenge youth from around the country on their understanding of the impacts of COVID-19. The learners showcased their writing and presenting skills through a short essay with the competition theme being "Understanding the impacts of COVID-19 in our daily lives".
Grade 8 learner, Oratile Letshwene from the National Zoological Garden ZooClub won the Pretoria leg of the competition. Her winning essay which can be read by clicking this link: winning essay.
Winner of COVID-19 Essay Competition, Oratile Letshwene