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Prof Helen Rees

The Order of the Baobab in

Prof Helen Rees Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the field of medical science and research. Her work gives hope to communities who have been affected by the scourge of HIV and AIDS.
Profile of Prof Helen Rees

Prof Helen Rees OBE is Founder and Executive Director of the Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (RHI) of the University of Witwatersrand, which is the university’s largest research entity with a mandate for research, health systems strengthening and training. Under her leadership, the RHI serves as co-founder and Co-Director of Wits University’s Flagship Centre on Vaccinology.

She is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Clinical Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she was awarded the prestigious Heath Clark Lectureship in 2010, which is awarded annually to an outstanding international health practitioner.

Throughout her career, Prof Rees has championed  public health improvement with an emphasis on human rights and ethical, evidence-based approaches to sexual and reproductive health, child and maternal health and HIV. Since 1994, she has been influential in shaping both national and global sexual and reproductive health policy and practice.
Prof Rees’s career has always bridged the interface between science and society, and her commitment to social activism could already be seen from her days as a young medical student in the United Kingdom, through to the present. As a medical student at Cambridge University, she was an organiser for the group ‘Medicine in Society’, which aimed to introduce topical social issues as par t of a broader learning experience for medical undergraduates.

For her Master’s degree in Women’s Studies, Prof Rees combined both social science with medical science by describing the adverse impact that the poorly managed elective induction of labour was having on both obstetric outcomes and on the experiences of women in labour.

Having under taken her early medical training in London, she and her husband moved to Zimbabwe immediately after independence to respond to the urgent need for clinicians to rebuild the health services. She spent two years working at Harare Hospital as a registrar in paediatrics and neonatal medicine.