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Helen Rees

Helen Rees is a South African medical researcher based in Johannesburg, South Africa.


Rees attended the University of Cambridge as a medical student where she was an organizer for the group ‘Medicine in Society’, which “aimed to introduce topical social issues as part of a broader learning experience for medical undergraduates.” She received a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies.

After completing her early medical training in London, she and her husband moved to Zimbabwe. She spent two years working at Harare Hospital as a registrar in pediatrics and neonatal medicine.

Career and Affiliations

Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (1994-present)

Rees is the founder and executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (RHI) at the University of the Witwatersrand.1)

African Leadership in Vaccinology Excellence

Rees is a co-founder and co-director of African Leadership in Vaccinology Excellence (ALIVE), the flagship vaccinology programme at the University of the Witwatersrand.2)

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Rees is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Clinical Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.3)

South Africa National Advisory Group on Immunization

World Health Organization

Rees plays a leadership role in several World Health Organization expert committees and initiatives:

  • Chair of the International Health Regulations Review Committee on Polio5)
  • Former chair of WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization6)
  • STI Vaccine Roadmap Committee7)
  • WHO African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group8)
  • WHO Committee Developing Regulations to Cover Clinical Trials and Research During Emergencies9)
  • WHO Ebola Vaccine Working Group10)
  • WHO Expert Committee on HPV Vaccines11)
  • WHO HIV Vaccine Expert Committee12)

GE2P2 Global Foundation

Rees delivered a keynote presentation at the 2011 Global Vaccines 202X Access, Equity, Ethics Symposium titled WHO’s Immunization Policy Framework: Is it achieving its goal?13) She was introduced to the audience by Paul Offit. The symposium was hosted by the Center for Vaccine Ethics and Policy (CVEP), a program of the GE2P2 Global Foundation.14) Rees is a fellow of the foundation.15)

The GE2P2 Global Foundation is supported by the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, a consortium of gene therapy pharmaceutical companies including Astellas, Bristol-Myers Squibb, CRISPR Therapeutics, CSL, Fresenius Kabi, GE Healthcare, Gilead Sciences (through Kite Pharma), GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Oxford Biomedica, Pfizer, Sanofi, Spark Therapeutics, Takeda, Terumo, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.16)

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Rees is a member of the board of directors for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.17)

Population Council

Rees serves as a technical expert for the Population Council.18)

South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA)

Rees is chair of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) Board.19) SAHPRA is the organization in charge of regulating the use of all health products throughout South Africa, including COVID-19 vaccines.20) Rees oversaw the approval of the injections from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca.

National Institute of Communicable Diseases

Rees is a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations

Rees is Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).21)

International AIDS Vaccine Initiative

Rees is a member of the Board of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).22)

Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group

Rees is a member of the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group, an initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Aspen Institute.23) The group is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust.

Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 and Vaccines

COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition


SOLIDARITY Trial (2020-2022)

Rees is the Co-Chair of the South African arm of the SOLIDARITY Trial, the World Health Organization-sponsored study on repurposed drugs for use as COVID-19 treatments.33) 34) The drugs under examination included hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, and “antiviral drugs commonly used for HIV.”35)

CROWN CORONATION Study (2020-2022)

Rees is a Principal Investigator for the COVID-19 Research Outcomes Worldwide Network for CORONAvirus prevenTION (CROWN CORONATION) study, investigating strategies to protect healthcare workers against COVID-19 infection.36) The study is sponsored by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a funding initiative paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mastercard, Wellcome Trust,37) 38) the Government of the United Kingdom, Madonna, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,39) as well as pharmaceutical companies BD, Boehringer Ingelheim, bioMerieux, Eisai, Eli Lilly, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck (both the US and German divisions), Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi.40)

Additional Funding

Professor Helen Rees, Executive Director. (2022). Wits RHI.
Consortium Members. (2022). Wits-Alive.
Prof Helen Rees. The Presidency. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
Helen Rees, MD, MA, MRCGP | AME. (2022). Academic Medical Eduction.
Biographies of the members of, and advisers to, the IHR Emergency Committee concerning ongoing events and context involving transmission and international spread of poliovirus. World Health Organization. Retrieved June 4, 2022, from
What is SAGE? (2011, October 21). Wayback Machine; World Health Organization.
Gottlieb, S. L., Deal, C. D., Giersing, B., Rees, H., Bolan, G., Johnston, C., Timms, P., Gray-Owen, S. D., Jerse, A. E., Cameron, C. E., Moorthy, V. S., Kiarie, J., & Broutet, N. (2016). The global roadmap for advancing development of vaccines against sexually transmitted infections: Update and next steps. Vaccine, 34(26), 2939–2947.
GPEI-Q&A with Helen Rees. (2020, August 25). Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Helen Rees - Founder, Director, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. (2022). EMedEvents.
Jasarevic, T. (2019, May 7). WHO adapts Ebola vaccination strategy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to account for insecurity and community feedback. World Health Organizatioon.
Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) Working Group on potential contribution of HPV vaccines and immunization towards cervical cancer elimination (established June 2018). (2021, November 24). World Health Organization.
Professor Helen Rees. (2015). Events Cloud.
Curry, D. R. (2011, May 16). Symposium – Global Vaccines 202X: Access, Equity, Ethics. Center for Vaccine Ethics and Policy.
Curry, D. R. (2009, March 2). About us. Center for Vaccine Ethics and Policy.
Helen Rees, MD, OBE. (2019, February 19). GE2P2 Global Foundation.
Advancing Gene, Cell, & Tissue-Based Therapies. Alliance for Regenerative Medicine. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
Helen Rees. (2022). Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Professor Helen Rees. (2016, May 25). Murray Edwards College - University of Cambridge.
The SAHPRA Board. (2022). SAHPRA.
SAHPRA update on Vaccine Approvals. (2021, June 21). SAHPRA.
Gutierrez, Jr., O. R. (2020, June 29). Partnership science. POZ.
Professor Helen Rees (Chairperson). (2013, October 7). World Health Organization.
The Group. The Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from
Ministerial Advisory Committees on COVID-19 (pp. 4, 8). (2020). Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism.
SABC News. (2021, August 22). Focus on the COVID-19 vaccines with Professor Helen Rees. YouTube.
Witz RHI. (2022, March 9). French National Order of Merit awarded to Professor Helen Rees - Wits University. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Helen Rees. COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
Donors. COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
Industry partners and service providers. DNDi. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
Universities and Research Centres. DNDi. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
Non-profit Organizations and Networks. DNDi. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
Ministries of Health and Governments. DNDi. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from
WHO Solidarity Trial Consortium. (2020). Repurposed antiviral drugs for COVID-19 — Interim WHO Solidarity Trial results. New England Journal of Medicine.
#ListenToTheExperts Prof Helen Rees, Exec Director, Wits RHI tells us about the Solidarity Trial. (2020, May 18). SA Corona Virus Online Portal.
WHO Solidarity Trial Consortium. (2022). Remdesivir and three other drugs for hospitalised patients with COVID-19: final results of the WHO Solidarity randomised trial and updated meta-analyses. The Lancet, 0(0).
Avidan, M., Washington University School of Medicine, & COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. (2022, January 27). An international, multi-site, Bayesian platform adaptive, randomized, placebo-controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of candidate agents in mitigating COVID-19 disease in adults.
COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. (2020, March 10). Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Suzman, M. (2020, March 10). Announcing the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Au-Yeung, A. (2020, April 3). A Bill Gates-backed accelerator for COVID-19 therapeutics treatment partners with Madonna and Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Forbes.
Staines, R. (2020, March 26). Pharma giants including Novartis collaborate on COVID-19 therapies. Pharmaphorum; Pharmaphorum Media Limited.
Rees, H. Multipurpose Prevention Technologies: New drugs, New Delivery Systems. South African HIV Clinicians Society. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from
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