Rhodes University: The profound power of partnership in a pandemic

As per tradition, Rhodes University recently hosted the 2022 VC’s Distinguished Community Engagement Award Lecture by Professor Rod Walker.

In good wishes of success at this event, Rhodes University Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, Professor ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, welcomed families and friends of the Walker family, guests, and those joining via Zoom. “Good evening, and welcome to this Vice-Chancellors Distinguished Community Engagement Award Lecture,” she said.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Community Engagement Award is a prestigious and competitive annual award which recognises meaningful and committed partnerships between the members of the University and community partners. These partnerships fall within teaching, learning and research, where human and material resources of the University have been combined with assets found in local communities to contribute to sustainable human and community development.

Prof Monnapula-Mapesela said: “Soon after the pandemic hit in 2020, Professor Walker heeded a call from the World Health Organisation to produce hand sanitiser – a challenging task since the demand even for the raw ingredients far exceeded supply. However, this experience illustrated, as Professor Walker eloquently said, that collaboration through partnerships during a crisis is a force to be reckoned with.”

“Rhodes University has become a leading engaged university with a number of internationally-renowned engaged research programs and meaningful community-engaged learning partnerships, and tonight it is my honour to introduce to you the winner of the 2022 Award, Professor Roderick Bryan Walker from the Faculty of Pharmacy, who will be presenting a lecture reflecting on how much was achieved when pharmacists pulled together during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Prof Monnapula-Mapesela.

In his introduction, Prof Walker gave a distinctive acknowledgement: “I am very passionate about pharmacy, and many things pharmaceutical, and I’m hoping to share something with you that’s foreign to our community engagement and many ways we have discovered that helped during the pandemic. Pharmacists Partnering for the Pandemic is very important in the contexts of community engagement,” said Prof Walker.

He continued to acknowledge his post-graduate students who are active in community engagement projects as they are participating in their 400-hours of academic internship working at Settlers Hospital and Fort England Hospital. “I am particularly humbled and honored to receive this award, and to be recognised by the institution is amazing. I dedicate this presentation to all healthcare professionals who work on the frontline during this pandemic,” said Prof Walker.

Prof Walker said he encountered some challenges during his sanitiser project. He said the demand was high, and the ingredients were scarce and expensive to purchase. “Demand continued to outstrip supply, and so the manufacture of hand sanitiser gained a life of its own, and a teaching laboratory was converted into a facility that at its peak produced 900 L a day and in total in excess of 14 500 L to date.” Said Prof Walker.

He said despite the challenges, the project was intellectually stimulating and rewarding. “It burgeoned from an individual act to engagement with several partners from various sectors such as the Eastern Cape Department of Health, South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity, Departments of Physics and Chemistry and others, and it grew into a productive life-saving initiative. Expansion of production and skills development followed with the Ubunye Foundation providing materials for their stakeholders to benefit and Dhone Agricultural Development Unit staff being trained in production,” said Prof Walker.

Prof Walker consistently acknowledged Rhodes University, his team, students, drivers, National Research Foundation and every individual and group that had participated in the project. “Postgraduate students and family assisted in the cleaning of recycled containers, labelling and manufacture in order to provide this vital commodity. Undergraduate Industrial Pharmacy elective students, when allowed back on campus, were involved in the production, and a service-learning component became cemented in the curriculum,” he explained.

The well-respected Pharmacist said he has a vision for the future. “I seek to explore synergies between the Eastern Cape Department of Health and National Department of Health. Focusing on teaching and research, particularly on cosmetics, extemporaneous compounding, paediatric, and to improve processes and formulations to produce safe and stable products,” he said.

He said there are other possibilities that exist for collaboration as the country is still fighting the spread of COVID-19 and trying to live with the ‘new normal’. “As a pharmacist, I will be exploring additional partnerships to fight this pandemic and solve other challenges,” he concluded.

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