LSTM Leverhulme Lecture: Ecstasies and agonies of evidence synthesis

Event 2 Nov 2015

THIS EVENT WILL BE STREAMED LIVE: Click here for the livestream (available as of 5.15PM)





Professor Jimmy Volmink
Dean, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town
Director, Cochrane South Africa, SA Medical Research Council, Cape Town

The likelihood of misusing resources on ineffective or harmful interventions can be reduced if healthcare decisions are consistently informed by reliable research. However, vested interests, both academic and commercial, as well as strongly held beliefs, can pervert the decision making process, so that research evidence will sometimes be ignored, with detrimental consequences.

This presentation is my personal account of 20 years’ experience with conducting and promoting the use of systematic reviews in South Africa around problems of my continent, drawing on examples from TB, HIV and nutrition. I will reflect on instances where systematic review findings were embraced, rejected or ignored by decision-makers. Some examples will also illustrate where systematic reviews were useful for stimulating debate or spurring new research. The overarching story is of an exciting, enlightening and rewarding career in evidence synthesis which has allowed me to gain many friends (and make some enemies). 

Jimmy Volmink is Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University and Founding Director of the South African Cochrane Centre hosted by the Medical Research Council of South Africa. His previous positions include Deputy Dean for Research at Stellenbosch University, GlaxoWellcome Chair of Primary Health Care at the University of Cape Town, and Director of Research and Analysis of the Global Health Council in Washington DC.   

After obtaining his BSc and MBChB degrees from the University of Cape Town and a DCH from the SA College of Medicine he worked in hospitals in rural Swaziland and Cape Town. From there he went on to practice as a family doctor and district surgeon in a township near Cape Town for 12 years. He was awarded a Harvard/South Africa Fellowship and obtained an MPH from Harvard University in 1988. In 1996, he obtained a DPhil in Epidemiology, after receiving the Nuffield Research Fellowship to further his studies at the University of Oxford. He was elected to membership of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in 2000 and has served two consecutive terms as an ASSAf council member. In 2014 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.  

Prof Volmink is currently President of the Southern African Epidemiological Association, Chair of the Governing Board of the Chronic Diseases Initiative in Africa and Chair of ASSAf’s Consensus Study Panel on “Reconceptualising education and training of an appropriate health workforce for the improved health of the nation.” In addition, he serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the InterAcademy Medical Panel - the global network of the world's medical academies and medical divisions within science academies, and the Scientific Advisory Board of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.   

Prof Volmink has a special interest in evaluations of the effects of health care interventions, research capacity building and the promotion of evidence-based decision making. He has 180 scientific publications to his credit of which 107 are peer reviewed journal articles. His research has been extensively cited in the scientific literature (Google Scholar H-index 41) and he is regularly invited as a speaker at national and international conferences. He has been a member of committees and advisory boards of a large number of international organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO); the UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases; the Acumen Fund; the Cochrane Collaboration; the Wellcome Trust; the Vienna School of Clinical Research; the Belgian Red Cross; and the International Clinical Epidemiology Network. In 2005, he was guest editor of the British Medical Journal Special Issue on Africa.