/ 22 July 2009

Branson, SA govt join in fight against disease

Businessman Sir Richard Branson and President Jacob Zuma intend establishing a disease-control centre in South Africa by next year.

After meeting at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday, Branson said the initiative explored by his non-profit organisation — Virgin Unite — was expected to be launched by March.

It would be 50% funded by the government and 50% through private investment.

Branson said he was on board to try to garner some investment from the private sector, but that Virgin Unite would be providing the ”bulk” of the 50%.

He would not elaborate on the cost of the investment.

”Hopefully it will be the start of a new beginning … to get on top of the health problems in South Africa,” said Branson with a broad smile.

”Africa does not have one of these centres for disease control, and we will hopefully coordinate all of the wonderful organisations that are trying to tackle disease in this country.”

Zuma echoed Branson’s ideals that a centre of this nature was a good start, and that its benefits would be felt by sub-Saharan countries.

”We are very happy. We think it’s a good start … we wish that many business people will gather here and be ready to help.”

Indications were given that centres of a similar kind could be established in other African countries, but at this stage South Africa would act as a hub for the region.

The disease-control hub would prioritise the fight against HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, diabetes and other emergent health concerns in Southern Africa.

”Health is a key priority for the government, and the disease-control hub is an innovative and needed resource to help strengthen our health system and health information,” said Zuma.

Branson said he was pleased the South African government was on board.

”The disease-control hub is a critical initiative to help stop needless suffering from diseases — that have needlessly killed large numbers of people and hampered the growth of this incredible country.”

He said that by delivering better data and helping to scale responses more quickly, the centre would play an important role in transforming the health sector in South Africa.

”We are pleased to be working closely with the South African government and would like to call out to other business leaders, foundations and international bodies to join us in this partnership that will ultimately help save millions of lives.”

The meeting agreed that the health department would work with Virgin Unite to further develop and refine the initiative within the context of existing partnerships.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Minister in the Presidency for National Planning Trevor Manuel also attended the meeting. — Sapa