UP professor seconded to Presidency to help track and fight Covid-19

26th March 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

A professor from the University of Pretoria (UP), Willem Fourie, has been seconded to the South African Presidency to support the government in its social and economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In partnership with the South African tech talent marketplace OfferZen, Fourie will assist with identifying members of the technology community that can bolster the Presidency’s response.

Fourie, who is coordinator of the South African Sustainable Development Goals Hub at UP, says the secondment is the result of both his existing public policy work with the government and the Covid-19 Vulnerability Map built by his data science team.

According to Fourie, his data science team, comprising members Graeme Ford, Christopher Marais, Hannes Strydom and Pieter van der Walt, worked “around the clock” to build the tool in record time.

The final product is a map which uses publicly available data to identify vulnerable communities and support government in its response.

According to Fourie, the support and input of experts from across South Africa’s academic and technology communities are critical for South Africa to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Covid-19, which has been declared a pandemic, is one of the most severe public health challenges in recent history. People with pre-existing illnesses, especially respiratory, are particularly vulnerable.

With the support of OfferZen, and its rallying of the technology community, Fourie’s team has developed an online map that ranks South Africa’s municipal wards in terms of vulnerability to the spread and impact of Covid-19. Discussions are under way with the national Department of Health’s team at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to integrate the map with its evolving platform.

In the official secondment request, the Presidency's Investment and Infrastructure Office head Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa notes that Fourie had shown himself willing and capable to support the government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the crisis, adding that government seeks to draw on the multidisciplinary research skills and expertise he has acquired in the past ten years by working with the local government, the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union (AU).

Since 2012, Fourie has also contributed to development effectiveness initiatives coordinated by the AU. He is an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow and has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.

“At UP we pride ourselves on doing research that matters and has a positive impact on people’s lives while solving complex and societal problems and challenges in South Africa and Africa,” comments UP Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe.

He says he “readily agreed” to the request because he believes all South Africans must support the national effort to bring the pandemic under control and contribute to the process of returning to a normal life.

“UP is ready to second more experts as required by the Presidency.”