Leaving Durban

It is now absolutely official and irrevocable. I will be leaving HEARD, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Durban at the end of the year. My post as the Director of the Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division was advertised in the Mail and Guardian on Friday 28 June. I hope we will get strong candidates and anyone reading this posting who knows people who might want to apply, please encourage them.

I am going to Canada where I have been appointed as the Center for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) Chair in Global Health Policy at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. It is quite a complicated appointment. I will be located in the Balsillie School for International Affairs (BSIA) and am also part of CIGI which is a think tank. Waterloo is a small university town located about an hour south west of Toronto’s Pearson Airport. It looks like a very interesting place with the two universities (the other one is Waterloo University); the BSIA and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, all close together. It is worth looking at the websites, if only to see the wonderful buildings. CIGI is in the renovated Seagram’s Distillery while BSIA has its own new building next door.

The process of going has been a protracted one. I was offered the position and accepted last year. I informed the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the HEARD Board of my intention to depart and began the process of negotiating the transition. It has taken a long time to get the advertisement put together, longer than anyone would have liked.

I will be transitioning in a measured manner, I am already fractionally appointed in Waterloo, will increase this with effect from September 2013 and will then be 100% there from 1 January 2014. I am aware that this is in the depths of the Canadian winter. So cross country skiing will be on my agenda.

Last year was a time of endings. At the end of the Washington AIDS conference I completed 12 years as a Governing Council member for the International AIDS Society. At the end of December 2012 I finished a three and a half year term as a British Department of International Development (DFID) Senior Research Fellow. This was a factional appointment. It was a huge learning experience and a pleasure to do. I so enjoyed working with the DFID team – although I am totally opposed to open plan offices as a result of this experience. I don’t know how people managed to get so much done.

I began thinking about leaving HEARD some time ago for a number of reasons. The predominant one was the desire to have a legacy. A prerequisite for a legacy is one has to leave! I firmly believe founders have ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates and hope I did not pass mine. HEARD  is an established organisation with excellent staff, reasonably secure funding, and great track record. I won’t blow our trumpet, the information is all on the website but I must however mention the remarkable number of peer-reviewed publications being produced by our team: 34 last year alone.

I felt it important for the organisation to have new leadership. There are so many issues in the health field that need attention in southern Africa and my focus is somewhat constrained. A new Director will bring a fresh vision and take the group in some interesting new directions. Things that they can think about include the rise in Non-Communicable Diseases and the environmental changes we are seeing.

Finding a position to go to was rapid. I went for a number of interviews in South Africa and beyond. I was told about the post in Waterloo by a friend of 40 years; looked at it; put in an application; and went for an interview and visit. The rest, as they say, is history.

The post is really attractive. The organisation is new and developing. It gives me the opportunity to work with major issues in a different environment. There will be considerably less administration and more time to write and think. I will, for the first time in many years, have the opportunity to teach and work with graduate students. In addition I will be able to talk to people and go to meetings in New York, Washington, Toronto and Ottawa without having to worry about time zones and long journeys and jet lag. It is very exciting.

Back in Durban the HEARD team have been extremely busy. We have just had the 6th SA AIDS Conference here. Important new data were released. Ahead of this there was a meeting organised by the South African Medical Research Council and the National Institutes of Health on Research frontiers in HIV, HIV related malignancies and TB. It was a summit on shared research priorities and was mainly bio-medical. The dinner was held on the top floor of the Blue Waters Hotel at the north end of the beachfront. The night was clear and the view across the city and the new stadium, as far as Umhlanga, magnificent.

On the Tuesday of the conference opening we co-hosted a meeting with UNAIDS at the HEARD offices. This was on Investments into Critical Enablers for the KZN AIDS Response: Where are the Gaps? The guest of honour was the provincial Minister of Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo. There was much excitement about this as we had to deal with protocol and bodyguards. He was supposed to arrive just before 10am but at 9:20am I got a message to say they were in the car park. I dashed down and he told me he was going to sit there and work and would come up at about 9.55am, and I should stop fussing. He is such a nice man. When this was over I dashed down to the International Convention Centre to attend the opening of the Conference.

The title of a plenary speech by the CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council, Dr Olive Shisana, HIV/AIDS in South Africa: A last the glass is half full, summed up the complex and extremely challenging situation. The estimated number of people in South Africa living with HIV has risen to 6.4 million people (up from the previous estimate of 5.6 million). The estimated prevalence of HIV increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.3% in 2012. It is highest in KwaZulu-Natal at 27.6% of those aged 15 – 49, falling to 9.2% in the Western Cape.

While that was bleak, the research and policy input coming from HEARD is influential and important. There were panels organised by HEARD’s Disability and HIV Project and a reception held at Kingsmead cricket ground in the director’s box. We organised a meeting on HIV resource tracking and costing in east and southern Africa which was http://www.gmai;held on Howard College campus in a wonderful new building next to the science block.

On the personal level Douglas has finished high school and, while waiting for the results, is looking at next steps, including coming to Canada. Ailsa is dealing with the bureaucracy of the move, endless forms and complexities! Rowan is busy with two jobs, one at the Writers Centre Norwich. It is worth mentioning that Norwich is England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. She will be starting an MA in creative writing in 2014. So, in summary, all is well and exciting.


C.J Sansom, Dissolution

This was first published in 2003 by Viking. I got one of the 2011 World Book Night copies. The WBN is ‘a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift specially chosen and printed books in their communities to share their love of reading’. In 2013 it was celebrated in the UK, Ireland and the USA.  This is a crime novel set in the 16th century during the dissolution of the monasteries. It is as good as the Hilary Mantel books, and is complimentary since it takes a different view, a hunchback lawyer in the employ of Thomas Cromwell investigates crimes in monasteries. It is an excellent read. What makes it particularly relevant is that I am also reading Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. I will review that in the next posting – but for now he argues that the world is a more peaceable rational place, the 16th Century was routinely violent.


‘Save your legs’ released in 2013, an independent Australian film

This is the story of a not very good Australian cricket team called the Abbotsford Anglers who go on tour in India, with all the trials and tribulations that is involved from rotten pitches to food poisoning. Not all the characters are developed or believable but it is a nice human observational film.