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Signed DUT CertificateCongratulations to the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Professor Monique Marks, Head of the Urban Futures Centre (UFC), and her team for winning the Inaugural Team Award at the 2020/21 HSRC-USAf Medal for Excellence in the Social Sciences and Humanities ceremony. The ceremony was held via Zoom on Thursday, 18 March 2021.   

The year 2021 is the first time that this is a joint venture between Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Universities South Africa (USAf) who have come together to celebrate the outstanding contributions in the social sciences and humanities. Over the last five years, the adjudication panel focused on recognising individuals, established and emerging scholars, researchers and academics. This year the panel added a team award for an outstanding contribution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The UFC team led by Prof Marks received this inaugural award. This award recognises the phenomenal contribution of the Urban Futures Centre during COVID-19, particularly in developing a responsive and evidence-based programme for homeless people who are heroin dependent. This with the acknowledgement of the UFC’s sustained research, innovation and engagement track record since its inception in 2014.  

At the start of lockdown level 5, the UFC together with partner organisations including the eThekwini Municipality, Advance Access and Delivery, TB HIV Care and the South African Network of People who Use Drugs, organised a withdrawal management programme in two of the lockdown safe spaces for homeless people. This initiative was so successful that the eThekwini Municipality has awarded one of its buildings, Bellhaven Memorial in Greyville, for the purposes of running a full-time harm reduction centre. This centre is very low threshold, meaning there are almost no barriers to accessing treatment and services. This is the first of its kind in Durban, South Africa and the continent, and has received huge public and media attention for its impact both nationally and internationally.  

Announcing the winning team for the Inaugural Team Award category was DUT’s former Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Ahmed Bawa who is now the CEO of Universities South Africa (USAf). 

“It gives me great pleasure to announce this. The Urban Futures Centre at DUT is located within the Faculty of Engineering and the Build Environment. The idea of that clearly is to try and ensure that studies around the urban conditions and future bring a different element, different knowledge and so on. I am pleased that UFC’s response to COVID-19 brought together different kinds of inputs to the research enterprise,” said Prof Bawa.   

 In her acceptance speech, Prof Marks said receiving this award extended her appreciation to the UFC team which is comprised predominantly of women who are committed to engaged research. Marks noted that the UFC is located in the Engineering and Built Environment Faculty at DUT, and so by its very location in the university is transdisciplinary. She noted that the UFC’s response during COVID-19 lockdown was possible because of the ongoing support she and her team receive from the university and the autonomy that is granted in honouring academic freedom and knowledge expertise. DUT, she said, provides latitude to explore and experiment allowing for creativity, knowledge generation, and model building. During COVID-19 lockdown, the UFC worked with network partners in reducing the social, health and economic impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable population groupings, homeless people who use drugs. At the core of this response was a recognition of their fundamental human rights and dignity. Providing assistance in dealing with forced withdrawal also minimised the possibility of homeless people being vectors of COVID-19 transmission.   

The project began in an underground parking lot in Moses Mabhida where a group of social scientists, public health specialists and a specialist psychiatrist provided medical and psycho-social assistance to 260 homeless people in moderate to severe states of withdrawal from heroin. As Prof Marks explained at the awards ceremony, withdrawal from any type of opioid is extremely traumatic, more so when it is forced during a pandemic lockdown. The team she led operated 7 days a week from the first day of lockdown in the homeless safe spaces and this seven day a week service now runs at Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre.   

Prof Marks added that she was extremely honoured by the award which she accepted on behalf of both her team at the UFC and the implementation project team made up of social science researchers, medical doctors, psychiatric specialists, law enforcement specialists and public health specialists. She said the monetary prize will be used to digitise the Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre data system to improve systems and to provide easily accessible de-identified data for research.    

This is one of the many prizes received by Prof Marks and her team. Their accolades include DUT Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Awards for engagement and research excellence, and the DUT Data Day Award. In December 2020, Prof Marks won the first DUT Community Engagement Staff of the Year Award, and the Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre won the 2020 Community Engagement Project Award. They have also been recognised as a top ‘Good Hood’ initiative by the South African Cities Network, who will be profiling this project nationally.   

DUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo congratulated Prof Marks and her team for receiving this prestigious award.  

Prof Moyo said: “Thanks so much for all the hard work and for putting DUT on the map. It is well deserved considering how much work has been consistently taking place in partnership with all our quad-helix partners.”    

Pictured: Prof Monique Marks and the Inaugural Team Award that she recently accepted on behalf of the Urban Futures Centre.   

Simangele Zuma and Prof Monique Marks. 

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