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Glenda Gray ‘grateful for support’ as SAMRC calls off investigation into her lockdown criticism

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South African Medical Research Council president and member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) Professor Glenda Gray has expressed her gratitude after the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) on Tuesday cleared her for recent comments about government’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

“I wish to thank the Board of the SAMRC for having acted with the requisite urgency in its deliberations over this matter, the findings of which I have noted with appreciation. I would like to assure the Board and colleagues at the SAMRC that I remain focused on the important work of the SAMRC,” Gray said in a statement following the SAMRC’s announcement.

“I also re-affirm my commitment to doing all I can to the best of my ability to contribute to the national effort against Covid-19 and remain at the disposal of the Minister of Health and the Ministerial Advisory Committee in this regard. 

“I want to also thank all those who have reached out to me personally during this unfortunate and trying time and especially to those who insisted on upholding the principles of academic freedom, which can only be of benefit to our country and all its people. I want to thank my children and family and I’m grateful for their unwavering support as they stood by me during this difficult time,” Gray said. 

LIVE | All the latest coronavirus and lockdown updates

She came under fire last week over comments to News24 in which she criticised some of the government’s lockdown regulations as “unscientific” and, in some cases, thumb-sucked.

In the interview, she claimed there were increased malnutrition cases in children at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. She later clarified her comment. 

Gray also clarified that she had not criticised the lockdown or the extension of the lockdown, saying it was, in fact, critical. She emphasised that her comments related to some of the regulations imposed.

On Monday, the SAMRC board apologised to the Ministry of Health and the MAC for Gray’s comments, saying it would institute a fact-finding investigation into the “damage” the comments may have caused.

It said that, with immediate effect, Gray and the staff of the SAMRC were under strict instructions not to interface with the media until all issues relating to the comments were resolved.

But on Tuesday, the SAMRC issued a statement saying that its board had met to discuss the challenges relating to the media statements Gray had made in her private capacity.

“The SAMRC board received communication from the Department of Health regarding the… comments.

READ | Adriaan Basson: The truth behind THAT interview with Prof Glenda Gray

‘Did not find transgression’

“The board has discussed this matter with Professor Gray and looked into our relevant SAMRC policies. We did not find transgression of these policies by Professor Gray.

“The board has decided that it will not be instituting any further investigation on this matter.  

“The board encourages Professor Gray, the Minister of Health and the Ministerial Advisory Committee to resolve the issue of statements made in the media amicably in the best interests of all parties and the nation,” Dr Alfred Thutloa, head of corporate communications at the SAMRC, said.

Gray is an acclaimed HIV vaccine specialist, paediatrician and expert in HIV mother-to-child transmission. The MAC is a 51-member body advising the government on aspects of its Covid-19 response.

ALSO READ | I didn’t criticise the lockdown, but the regulations – Prof Glenda Gray after Mkhize slams criticism

Last Wednesday, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize issued a scathing rebuke of Gray’s comments, particularly around child malnutrition.

On 21 May, acting Department of Health director general Dr Anban Pillay wrote to the SAMRC board, requesting an investigation into Gray.

On the same day, more than 200 academics came out in support of Gray. The list had reached more than 300 by Monday morning.

“We condemn the specific threat made against Professor Glenda Gray for expressing her opinion in public, which is totally out of step with the public pronouncements made by the President, welcoming criticism. We uphold the right to academic freedom of speech, and call on the South African government to engage openly with alternate views, and for all of us to urgently work towards constructive solutions regarding policy, in the interests of the country,” the academics said.

Gray told News24 last week that she felt she was being singled out, adding that Mkhize’s criticism was “worrying”.

“I spoke in my personal capacity. The terms of reference of the MAC clearly state one is on the MAC in their personal capacity. As I have repeatedly stated, I did not criticise the lockdown,” she emphasised.

Gray said she believed that many other scientists had been vocal on the issue and possibly more “vociferous”.

– Reporting by Sarah Evans, Kyle Cowan, Azarrah Karim and Riaan Grobler

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