SAMRC clears Glenda Gray of wrongdoing after she called lockdown rules ‘nonsense’

File image. Professor Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council. Photo: South African Medical Research Council.

All parties in the spat were advised to settle their differences for the good of the country.

The board of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has found that its president, Professor Glenda Gray, did nothing wrong in airing her personal views to the media.

It also says it will not be investigating the matter any further.

“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 SAMRC board said in a brief statement on Tuesday morning.

The board also advised Gray, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and the Ministerial Advisory Committee to settle their differences.

“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.”

Gray herself has responded saying: “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 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 had previously called South Africa’s phased exit from the lockdown nonsensical and unscientific and said it should be eradicated completely. She later clarified that she did not criticise the lockdown or its extension, but emphasised that her critical comments related only to some of the regulations.

Mkhize last week responded strongly to Gray’s public stance, saying her criticism of the lockdown regulations “undermines the joint work” the state was taking to fight Covid-19.

Her views, however, had received widespread support from many in the medical community and most of the contested regulations could be irrelevant when South Africa enters alert level 3 at the start of June.

Dr Anban Pillay, the acting director-general of the health department, had earlier requested an investigation into Gray’s conduct, claiming that she had “made a number of false allegations against government”.

These concerns were described in a letter dated 21 May written by Pillay and addressed to Professor Johnny Mahlangu, chairperson of the SAMRC.

The letter stated that allegations Gray had recently made in the media were “damaging to government’s response to Covid-19”.

This came after an interview with News24 in which Gray was quoted saying it seemed government was “sucking regulations out of their thumb and implementing rubbish”.

Pillay stated that he had received calls about Gray’s conduct as president of the SAMRC on matters other than her statements to the media.

“I therefore recommend that the Board investigates the conduct [of Gray] on this matter given the harm it has caused to South Africa’s Covid-19 response.”

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, a leading medical researcher based at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, was among many who came out in support of Gray, describing her as a “national treasure”. She said Gray had raised important issues for the “common good” and in the “best interest of the country”. She emphasised that scientists must have the freedom to speak their minds.

In March, Gray was appointed a member of the MAC, where she became the chairperson of the research subcommittee.

She is an expert in infectious diseases, HIV and has training in paediatrics. She was vocally opposed to some of the government’s controversial policies on HIV/Aids in the 1990s.

(Compiled by Mungo Poore)

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