Maverick Citizen


The week in civil society: a focus on vaccine progress, oversight at Facebook and the secret power of pulses

Health scientists will be discussing how far they’ve come in the search for vaccines for HIV, TB and Covid-19. (Photo:

This week, health scientists will be discussing how far they’ve come in the search for vaccines for HIV, TB and Covid-19. Facebook’s Oversight Board will unpack its latest decisions and discuss the banning of Donald Trump’s account. And the world will shine a light on women and girls in science, those living with epilepsy and the secret powers of pulses.

South Africa is full of activists whose voices and campaigns need to be heard, and we want to report on all of them. So, wherever you live, if you have virtual events or meetings which you think other activists ought to know about, write to us at [email protected]

This week, the world commemorates a “world day” many might not have heard of: World Pulses Day. On 10 February, these packs of protein will be honoured for their high nutritional value and their critical role in combatting food insecurity and enriching soil. This day was declared by the United Nations in 2019.

The rest of the week…

On Monday 8 February, the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation launches its vaccine webinar series. It kicks off with a discussion on what vaccines are, how they work and why we can trust them. Register here.

That same day marks International Epilepsy Day. Started in 2015, the day is a platform for people to share their experiences of living with epilepsy and for global audiences to listen, in order to fight stigma and discrimination. 

The focus this year is to get #EpilsepyDay to trend on social media platforms. The Epilepsy Foundation encourages people to use the #EpilsepsyDay badge on their social media profiles and share information about “why epilepsy is more than seizures”. 

In the leadup to the day, the international network of epilepsy advocates has been raising awareness by challenging people to take 50 million steps for epilepsy —  a step for every person in the world affected by epilepsy. They had from 4 January to 8 February to do it, but they smashed the goal in 16 days. Naturally, they kept walking. More than 101 million steps were taken by 5 February.

In 2020, schoolchildren in South Africa lost between 82 and 87 school days – that’s about 40% or 43% of their school year. Pupils will return to school on Monday 15 February after yet another postponement. 

On Thursday 11 February, a panel of education researchers and professionals will discuss what needs to be done to reopen schools successfully. The webinar discussion is hosted by the Public Affairs Research Institute, an organisation which researches how effectively the state delivers services and provides infrastructure. 

Speaking at “Back to School: Challenges to teaching and learning while managing a pandemic”, are:

  • Prof Martin Gustafsson, an associate professor in the Economics Department of Stellenbosch University and senior researcher at RESEP, specialising in education policy and comparative education.
  • Dr Faranaaz Veriava, is the head of education at SECTION27. She was worked for the South African Human Rights Commission, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University and as an advocated of the Johannesburg Bar.
  • Mugwena Maluleke, the secretary-general of the South African Democratic Teachers Union. He is an alternate trustee of the Government Employee Pension Fund board (GEPF) and is a non-executive director of the interim board of the Public Investment Corporation.
  • Xolisa Guzula, a lecturer and doctoral student in the University of Cape Town’s School of Education. Her research interests range from children’s literacy and multilingualism to teacher training and development.

Attend the webinar on Thursday 11 February at 2PM by signing up here

Earlier that day, senior members of Facebook’s Oversight Board will discuss its latest decisions on content moderation. The board was established last year by the social media giant as an independent entity which reviews the company’s content moderation decisions and can make binding judgements about its policies.

The Board has made its first batch of decisions and is soon to decide on the suspension of Donald Trump’s Facebook account, according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is hosting the webinar. The panel will discuss this as well as the future of “…freedom of expression, public safety, and online moderation”.

Watch the discussion live here on the day from 6:30PM to 7:30PM. 

That same day, the world honours women and girls in science. Currently, less than 30% of the globe’s researchers are women. In terms of studies, female enrolment in information and communications technology (ICT), natural science, maths and statistics are between 3% and 5%. The day aims at raising awareness on this issue and celebrating the achievements they have made. 

This year’s theme is “Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19”.  UNESCO is hosting a webinar from 2PM to 4Pm that day. The panels will discuss how Covid-19 has impacted the research and scientific careers of women scientists, as well as how women scientists have worked at the forefront of Covid-19 research.

Amongst the panellists are:

  • Dr Özlem Türeci, the co-founder and chief medical officer of BioNTech;
  • Dr Anggia Prasetyoputri, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences; and
  • Prof Jennifer Thomson, the president of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World.

Find the programme and registration link here

On Saturday 13 February, radio has its day. The theme for this year’s “World Radio Day” is “New World. New Radio” and an “ode to the resilience of radio”. Radio is still the most consumed medium on the planet. UNESCO has called on radio stations to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this event and more than 110 years or radio. 

“More than ever, we need this universal humanist medium, vector of freedom. Without radio, the right to information and freedom of expression and, with them, fundamental freedoms would be weakened, as would cultural diversity, since community radio stations are the voices of the voiceless,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, ahead of World Radio Day 2021.

An international day spreading its way around the world is International Book Giving Day, commemorated on Sunday 14 February. Started in 2012, it has spread to 44 countries – including South Africa. The day is “about getting books into the hands of as many children as possible”. 

Between 9AM and 11:30AM on Monday 15 February, there will be a symposium on HIV, TB and Covid-19 vaccines hosted by the South African Medical Research Council’s HIV Prevention Research Unit.

Dr Reshmi Dassaye of the research unit will present on the science of vaccines, how they are developed and the successes and challenges of the unit’s trials.

Dr Nigel Garret, a researcher from the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, will provide an overview of the past, present and future developments in HIV vaccines.

Prof Tom Scriba, the director of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, will discuss the same for TB vaccines and Prof Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand will focus on Covid-19 vaccines.

Attend the virtual event here. DM/MC.

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected].