The Africa Health Research Institute’s executive director leads the institute and oversees its scientific programmes, assisted by four directors who lead AHRI’s broad research areas: basic and translational science, clinical science, population science, and social science. AHRI’s COO, CFO and other members of the executive assist with strategic oversight of operations.
Professor Willem Hanekom is a clinician-scientist who trained in medicine and paediatrics in South Africa and in paediatric infectious disease and research immunology in the USA. He is a renowned TB vaccine expert, having directed the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative before leading the TB vaccine group at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Here he developed and implemented the foundation’s first comprehensive TB vaccine strategy, which resulted in major breakthroughs in TB vaccine discovery and development. Willem has >200 publications and has been awarded competitive funding by most prominent agencies. He is the previous chair of both the South African Immunology Society and the Federation of African Immunology Societies and is a member of multiple international advisory committees in tuberculosis, vaccinology and translational immunology.
Director for basic and translational science
Professor Thumbi Ndung'u is an eminent HIV scientist who has made important contributions in the field of HIV vaccine and pathogenesis research. His research programme at AHRI is focussed on understanding how HIV and TB persist and replicate in the face of a hostile host immune system – with the goal of aiding the design of a safe, affordable and effective HIV-1 vaccine or effective immune-based therapies. Thumbi has a special interest in capacity building for biomedical research in Africa, primarily through the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) programme, based at AHRI. He is a Max Planck Society Group Leader and holds a professorship at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Director for clinical science (interim)
AHRI interim director for clinical science Dr Maryam Shahmanesh is a clinician-scientist whose research interests lie in the interdisciplinary space between social science, clinical medicine and epidemiology. After graduating in medicine from Cambridge University, Maryam completed her specialist training in sexual health and HIV medicine in London. Her academic training includes a degree in social and political science, a masters in epidemiology and a PhD in clinical epidemiology. Maryam is an AHRI executive committee member, a member of AHRI faculty, an associate professor in clinical epidemiology at the UCL Institute for Global Health, and a clinician at the Mortimer Market Centre. At AHRI, she leads a large programme of work to develop and evaluate complex sexual health and HIV prevention interventions for adolescents and young adults. In addition to her research, Maryam is actively involved in postgraduate teaching and supervision.
Director for population science
Dr Kobus Herbst is a public health specialist. In the early 1990s, he contributed to the establishment of the post-apartheid health system through the development and implementation of ReHMIS (Regional Health Management Information System), the first computerised public health care facility inventory in South Africa. Prior to AHRI's formation, Kobus was deputy director of the Africa Centre and also led its demographic surveillance programme. As director for population science, Kobus is a member of AHRI’s executive committee, a member of faculty, and is the institute’s chief information officer (CIO). In his CIO role, he is responsible for ensuring that information governance and management at the institute supports and enhances our research mission. He is also director of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN) at the SAMRC, a large investment by the Department of Science and Technology to integrate the three health and demographic surveillance sites in the country into a common population research infrastructure.
Director for social science
AHRI director for social science, Dr Nothando Ngwenya, is a social scientist with an initial degree in computer science and substantial experience in hospice care. Her research interests include health and wellbeing for adolescents, palliative care and improving services for people with terminal or incurable conditions. She has a PhD in cyber-psychology with a focus on health in end of life and has held research positions at Queen Elizabeth University Hospitals Birmingham, Cambridge University, and University College London Hospitals within the cancer clinical trials unit. At AHRI, Nothando is a member of the executive committee and a faculty member. Her research focuses on designing interventions to promote adherence and self-management for young people living with a life limiting or life-threatening condition, including HIV and cancer. She has an additional interest in developing social science capacity in Africa.
Chief operating officer
Dr Pinkie Mekgwe’s executive and academic career has spanned Africa, Europe, and Asia. Before joining AHRI in 2021, she was senior regional advisor for Africa and West Asia at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. She has also held executive positions at the University of Johannesburg and the University of Botswana. She was previously a visiting researcher at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, at Malmö University in Sweden, and was a lecturer at the University of Botswana for over a decade. Pinkie holds a PhD in literary theory and gender studies and a masters in critical theory from the University of Sussex, as well as a BA from the University of Botswana.
Chief financial officer
Xabisa Dyosi joined AHRI in 2020 from the University of Pretoria (UP), where she held the position of deputy director: finance from 2016. Prior to this, she was the financial manager: residences and manager: faculty accountants at the university, and audit manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She holds a BCom accounting sciences and BCom (Hons) accounting sciences as well as a postgraduate diploma in integrated reporting from UP. Xabisa did her chartered accountant (CA) articles at PricewaterhouseCoopers and qualified as a CA in 2009. At AHRI, she leads the strategic financial planning, financial record keeping and reporting, and the management of financial risks.
Chief HR officer
Nhlanhla Qwabe has 25 years of experience as a human resources practitioner, with 15 of these at an executive level at multinationals such as MultiChoice, Nike, Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, and MTN. In 2018 he founded Muntamu HR Services, an HR consulting practice which he led until joining AHRI in 2021. Nhlanhla holds a Bachelor of Administration honours from the University of Zululand and a Master of Business Administration from the Milpark Business School. As AHRI's chief HR officer, he leads on the institute’s internal mission to transform into a supportive and values-driven team, inspired to achieve scientific excellence.
Chief advancement officer
Munyadziwa Rabambi is a communication and stakeholder relations management practitioner with over 20 years of local and international experience in academia, non-governmental organisations, and the public and private sectors leading comms and stakeholder relations programmes as strategic assets for development. She joined AHRI in 2021 from Illovo Sugar Africa, where she led the stakeholder engagement and communication strategy execution for the group and its businesses in six countries in Africa. Munya holds an MPhil in communication management from the University of Pretoria. She is a trustee and one the founding members of the Kwasa Education and Skills Trust (KWEST), which mobilises funding to assist high school learners from vulnerable homes access skills development opportunities.
Board of directors
AHRI is governed by a board of directors composed of outstanding scientific and global health leaders. The board meets twice a year and is tasked with reviewing and authorising major institute decisions.
Board of Directors
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala is the vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), a position he took up in 2018. Before this, he was deputy vice-chancellor for research and internationalisation, and executive dean of the faculty of engineering and the built environment at UJ. He is a registered professional engineer and holds a PhD specialising in artificial intelligence and engineering from the University of Cambridge. Prof Marwala’s multidisciplinary research interests include the theory and application of artificial intelligence to engineering, computer science, finance, social science, and medicine. He is a fellow of The World Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Science of South Africa, the African Academy of Sciences and the South African Academy of Engineering. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering and a distinguished member of the Association for Computing Machinery. He has received more than 45 awards including the Order of Mapungubwe.
Professor Mosa Moshabela is associate professor and acting deputy vice chancellor of research and innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). He is a chief medical specialist in family medicine and primary healthcare. He also holds a doctorate in public health, with a specific focus on health systems and policy research. Prof Moshabela is a former dean in the School of Nursing and Public Health at UKZN and is a member of multiple global commissions on health. He is the chairperson of the standing committee on health in the Academy of Science of South Africa. He is an advisor to the Department of Health, provincially through the ‘war room’ for Covid-19 in KwaZulu-Natal, and nationally through the technical working group of the Ministerial Advisory Committee.
Terence Nombembe is head of investigation for South Africa’s judicial commission of inquiry into state capture. He served as the auditor-general of South Africa from 2006 to 2013, and prior to this held the position of deputy auditor-general and chief executive officer (CEO) for six years. Most recently, he was CEO of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants. His contribution to the accounting and auditing profession includes participation in some of the most prestigious global professional bodies, including the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board. He is currently a board member of the South African Reserve Bank; an advisory board member of the University of South Africa, School of Governance; and a council member of the Gauteng Ethics and Advisory Council.
Faith Kobo is an accomplished South African risk management professional with over 18 years of industry experience in corporate governance, risk management and compliance. She has substantial experience in public sector risk management and has worked in the office of the accountant-general at national treasury. She is an associate member of the Institute of Risk Management South Africa and founding CEO of Kobzit Consulting (Pty) Ltd. Ms Kobo is a certified sangoma and traditional medicine practitioner. She is also pursuing a degree in African traditional medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Professor Carol Gross is a professor of microbiology and immunology, and cell and tissue biology at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Prof Gross studies bacterial gene control and gene circuits.
Lead independent director
Getty Simelane is the AHRI board's lead independent director. She serves as a non-executive director on several public and private sector companies. She has over 20 years’ experience in human resources in various industries at executive level. She is registered as a master human resources practitioner (generalist) and HR auditor with the South African Board for People Practices. She is a fellowship member of the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa and an accredited Sirdar Governance Panelist.
From August 2015, Professor David Lomas has served as the vice-provost (health) at University College London. Previously, he was dean of UCL medical sciences and chair of medicine, a position he held since the start of 2013. An outstanding clinician scientist, Prof Lomas was also a professor of respiratory biology in the University of Cambridge and honorary consultant physician at Addenbrooke’s and Papworth Hospitals, and deputy director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.
Professor Nelson Sewankambo is a professor of internal medicine and former principal of Makerere University College of Health Sciences, an external member of US National Academy of Medicine, a fellow of African Academy of Sciences, and The World Academy of Sciences. Prof Sewankambo was among the first scientists to publish data on Aids in Africa and is a researcher of the Rakai Health Sciences programme, founded 30 years ago. He has served on numerous local and international advisory committees and boards. These include the Working Party on the Ethics of Clinical Research in Developing Countries of the Nuffield Council for Bioethics, the Joint Learning Initiative, the WHO African Advisory Committee on Health and Research Development, and the board of the International Clinical Epidemiology Network.
Dr McLean Sibanda is currently managing director: Bigen Global Limited (Mauritius), a leading multinational infrastructure solutions provider in a variety of sectors. Before that he led The Innovation Hub as CEO for seven and half years. Dr Sibanda is an engineer by first training but also a qualified patent attorney and attorney. He practiced with one of the leading intellectual property (IP) firms in South Africa, before co-founding Sibanda & Zantwijk attorneys where he was a partner until February 2019. He has a wealth of experience in the fields of IP, investment management, innovation, business planning and start-up industries. He has worked in senior and executive-level roles in the private and public sectors in South Africa, and has served on numerous board committees and boards.