EXPLAINER | How the Ministerial Advisory Committee works in the fight against Covid-19

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Many of the measures taken by the Department of Health in its response to Covid-19 has much to do with the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) - a name we have been hearing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as the government prepares to phase out the lockdown.

Social health interventions like hand-washing, physical distancing and mask wearing, as well as the nationwide lockdown when the virus hit South Africa and other health responses to Covid-19 are largely due to the advice of the MAC.

It is a non-statutory body made up of some of the best minds in the country - 51 experts from academia, health services and government institutions who have a mammoth responsibility to guide the department's response to the virus by providing high level advice to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on how to deal with Covid-19.

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How this works

The chairperson of the MAC, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, explained in a statement on Saturday it received questions and queries from the minister or director-general of the Department of Health.

Once it had received these queries, they set out to gather reliable evidence and put forward recommendations to be considered, which will make up part of South Africa's response to the pandemic.

The MAC comprises of four committees:

  • Research led by Professor Glenda Gray.
  • Health led by Professor Shibir Madhi.
  • Clinical led by Professor Marc Mendelson.
  • Laboratory led by Professor Koleka Mlisana.

"More recently, the MAC has also been generating its own questions for advisories to the Department of Health.

"To the best of my knowledge, none of the advisories submitted to date have been rejected by the Department of Health," Karim said.

Each member acts in their individual capacity and are not paid for their services.

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MAC meetings

Meetings take place between the MAC once a week. The minister, deputy minister and director-general of the health department are also invited to join them. It provides an opportunity for the MAC to share its views and interact with the department. The committee, however, would meet more frequently for a few times a week, Karim said.

Non-members are allowed to attend these meetings but only with the permission of the chairperson and must sign a confidentiality agreement.

Terms of reference

In the MAC's terms of reference, it makes clear it is not responsible for the delivery or co-ordination of services related to Covid-19, neither can it act on behalf of the minister. It has the responsibility to research, collate evidence and develop recommendations regarding the case management of patients.

The MAC looks at the control and mitigation of the outbreak such as physical distancing measures, testing strategies, contact tracing, schooling, business closures and the national lockdown. It comes up with strategies to raise awareness and educate the public as well as the economic impact of the virus on the health system.

Research also looks at pathogens, clinical modelling, disease modelling and public health interventions.

Karim said the MAC had submitted about 50 advisories to the department so far.

Code of conduct

The terms of reference also set out a code of conduct which must be followed.

This includes attending all virtual meetings, acting with professional and ethical standards, contributing to debate in an informed and rational manner, taking decisions that are in the interest of the public, respecting each other, making decisions together and taking joint responsibility for them.

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