The Medical Research Council: Overview
April 6, 2005
Prof Anthony D MBewu
Medical Research Council
Corporate Governance of the MRC
The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a Statutory Science Council, founded by Act of Parliament 36 years ago. It reports to the Minister of Health and its budget comes from the National Department of Health (NDOH).
The MRC’s strategy, businessplan, research priorities, budget and performance management are all agreed upon with the NDOH; and the MRC Board and Board Chairperson are appointed by the Minister of Health. The Annual Report of the MRC is presented to Parliament by the Minister of Health.
MRC Vision and Mission
The vision of the MRC is:
Building a healthy nation through research
The provision of good health is essential to building a healthy nation, and research is the
cornerstone of health care.
The MRC's task is to improve the health of the population of South Africa through excellent
scientific research. Health, development, economic growth and the well-being of the nation are closely linked.
The Mission of the MRC is:
To improve the nation's health status and quality of life through relevant and excellent health
research aimed at promoting equity and development.
In order to deliver on its mandate the MRC works hard to strengthen its stakeholder base and to engage with key stakeholders, such as the National Department of Health, and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health.
This is because research itself makes no difference to health unless its results are translated into:
Following from the MRC Strategy, the MRC Business Plan for 2005/6 lists the following priorities:
The MRC endeavours to entrench the following shared values in the organisation through a process of organisational change:
Transparency and open communication
Freedom to challenge
Teamwork/leadership / participation
Honesty/fairness and integrity
Reward and recognition
The MRC has clustered its research into 6 National Research Programmes that reflect the health priorities of the nation:
Each of the MRC’s National Programmes is made up of various research units and lead programmes focusing on specific issues.
In carrying out this research the MRC also focuses on:
How does the MRC work?
The MRC conducts and supports research on its own or with experienced partners such as universities and scientific institutions. The MRC's teams network with health policy-makers, other researchers and stakeholders in research such as universities and universities of technology, as well as with the wider research community. The main objective is to produce science that results in improved health. The research portfolio is based on the health priorities of South Africa.
Currently the MRC funds 500 scientists and 300 technologists (half of them directly employed by the MRC) within its 48 units, centres, groups and lead programmes; assisted by 300 support staff. These researchers are currently involved with approximately 500 research projects generating 500 peer reviewed publications a year; and over 100 technical reports and policy briefs. The MRC also funds an additional 200+ individual researchers engaged in 3-year research projects, generating approximately 100 papers per year.
77% of the global MRC budget is spent on research and developing scientists. Most of the rest goes on the services and systems that keep the MRC and its research running effectively.
Government provides half the budget of the MRC (R180 million of the total R350 million) through the National Department of Health; whilst the rest is derived from external contracts and grants.
The Six MRC National Programmes
Environment and development
Alcohol & Drug Abuse Research Unit
Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit
Health & Development Research Group
Health Promotion Research & Development Group
Environmental and Occupational Health Research Group
Health systems and policy
Burden of Disease Research Unit
Health Policy Research Group
Health Systems Research Unit
National Telemedicine Lead Programme
Infection and immunity
HIV and AIDS Research Lead Programme
HIV Prevention and Vaccine Research Unit
South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI)
Clinical and Biomedical Tuberculosis Research Unit
Operational and Policy Tuberculosis Research Group
Tuberculosis Research Lead Programme
Diarrhoeal Pathogens Research Unit
Genital Ulcer Disease Research Unit
Immunology of Infectious Disease Research Unit
Inflammation and Immunity Research Unit
Malaria Research Lead Programme
Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit
Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lead Programme
South African Traditional Medicines Research Unit
Molecules to disease
Bioinformatics Capacity Development Research Unit
Bone Research Unit
Centre for Molecular and Cellular Biology
Human Genetics Research Unit
Human Genomic Diversity and Disease Research Unit
Liver Research Centre
Molecular Hepatology Research Unit
Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit
Oesophageal Cancer Research Group
South African MRC/British MRC Receptor Biology Research Group
Anxiety and Stress Disorders Research Unit
Cancer Epidemiology Research Group
Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle Research Unit
Crime, Violence and Injury Lead Programme
Diabetes Research Group
Interuniversity Cape Heart Research Group
Medical Imaging Research Unit
Women and child health
Gender and Health Research Group
Maternal and Infant Health Care Strategies Research Unit
Mineral Metabolism Research Unit
Nutrition Intervention Research Unit
Activities across the MRC
Apart from the National Programmes, the MRC carries out many ‘corporate’ functions. These are organised into the following Directorates:
• Technology and Business Development
• Informatics and Knowledge Management
• Corporate Communications
• Human resources and Organisational development
• Finance and Operations