Professor Rees is a medical doctor, award-winning scientist, and global health leader who has served as chair in more than a dozen capacities. A champion for equal access to healthcare, she has dedicated her life to transforming health policy for tens of millions of people across South Africa, the wider African continent, and low- and middle-income countries around the world.
Professor Rees founded the Reproductive Health and HIV Institute at the University of Witwatersrand in 1994, building it into one of Africa’s largest research organisations. The Institute is a global leader in research for HIV, sexually transmitted infections, reproductive health, and the impact of climate change on health.
Through her work with governments, multilateral organisations and policy and scientific committees, Professor Rees has unique insight into global health governance. She has been integral to the COVID-19 response both in South Africa and globally – including serving on several committees advising the WHO and COVAX on COVID-19 vaccines and rollout. Professor Rees has also served on the Gavi board and is the current chair of the board of South Africa’s medicines regulator.
Professor Rees’ achievements have been recognised by the award of the OBE by the Queen Elizabeth II in 2001; the South African National Order of the Baobab in 2015; and the Officer of the French National Order of Merit by President Macron in 2022.
Professor Rees started her career as a family doctor in England before relocating to South Africa. She has had more than 250 research papers published, is an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, an Honorary Fellow at Murray Edwards College and University of Cambridge and was made an honorary Doctor of Science (Medicine) at the University of London.
Commenting on her appointment, Professor Helen Rees said:
“The HIV pandemic taught the world about the importance of equitable access to life saving medicines, and the initial lack of access in low- and middle-income countries to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, has reinforced the need for creative solutions for access to health products. It’s an honour for me to serve on the Board of MedAccess and to contribute to its vision of increasing the availability of much-needed health products in the world’s lower income countries.”
Nigel Keen, outgoing Chair of MedAccess Board, added:
“Helen is an excellent appointment for MedAccess at this time. Over the past five years we have laid strong foundations, including a bold strategy for growth and expansion by 2025. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved together during my tenure. MedAccess now has a proven-track record of positive impact on human health and I am confident it will go from strength to strength under Helen’s guidance.”
Welcoming Professor Rees, Michael Anderson, CEO of MedAccess, said:
“Helen is a brilliant scientist, a global leader in public health and a champion for healthcare equity. She has argued for decades that we cannot overcome infectious diseases without making healthcare accessible, affordable, and appropriate to community circumstances.
“As former chair of the WHO vaccine approvals committee, Helen has a keen understanding of the need to harness the best of business and science to improve health outcomes. Helen will be the perfect Chair for the MedAccess Board, which combines expertise in investment, manufacturing and delivery.
“I am deeply grateful to Nigel Keen for steering MedAccess through its first five years with energy, insight, and generosity. His wealth of experience in start ups and medical investments has helped MedAccess to secure agreements that are improving the health of people in more than 90 countries.”
Professor Rees became MedAccess Board Chair on 1 October. Her appointment was confirmed by the MedAccess Board at its meeting on 13 September.