UP research partnership makes foray into battle against pandemic by winning SAPRIN bid to host Gauteng urban research nodes

Posted on July 21, 2020

A research triad between the University of Pretoria (UP), the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) was recently awarded the Gauteng node of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Networks (SAPRIN) call for hosting first-of-a-kind urban population research nodes in an effort to model and improve responses to COVID-19 and future shocks to urban systems.

The SAPRIN call award seeks to establish a health and demographic surveillance system (HDSS) in urban areas in Gauteng and the City of Cape Town metropole. Thus far, demographic research nodes exist in South Africa only in rural areas.

The highly competitive bid to host an urban node in Gauteng was won by the Gauteng Research Triangle (GRT), which consists of UP, UJ and Wits, with their bid entitled Gauteng Research Triangle Initiative for the study of Population, Infrastructure, and Regional Economic Development (GRT-INSPIRED).

Three sites across Gauteng comprise the Gauteng urban node. Apart from a site in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, two sites will operate in Atteridgeville and Melusi, in the Tshwane Metro. Research will be conducted with population sizes of 50 000, 30 000 and 20 000, respectively.

GRT-INSPIRED makes use of a multidisciplinary health and demographic surveillance systems built on an advanced data platform (an HDSS) as well community-oriented primary care (COPC) infrastructure. The latter is an already existing model pioneered in Pretoria by Professor Jannie Hugo, Head of Family Medicine in UPs Faculty of Health Sciences. He is also UPs lead researcher on the project. Prof Hugo believes that:

“The establishment of the UP SAPRIN INSPIRE site is an opportunity for significant community-based trans-disciplinary research and service provision for UP academics and institutions.

“SAPRIN creates a research platform where key demographic and health indicators are monitored for a period of 20 years and more and hosts a wide range of research. It builds datasets that monitor the health and well-being of people over time in order to gather new information on the situation of poorer South Africans. All data sourced by SAPRIN are validated and provide sound evidence to inform strategies of the departments of Health, Social Development, Home Affairs, Basic Education, and others.”

The node in the City of Cape Town metro is led by the Western Cape Health Department which collaborates with the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Western Cape, the South African Medical Research Council, the Human Sciences Research Council and various community-based organisations.

The UP COPC core team includes Dr Edith Madela-Mntla, Professor Rhena Delport, Ronald Moshweu and Prof Hugo.

The UP GRT leadership consists of Professor Frans Swanepoel (Chairperson of the GRT subcommittee), Professor Sunil Maharaj, Dean of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT), and Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The medium- to long-term vision of the SAPRIN network is to cover an inclusive range of South Africans by undertaking studies and comparing data in diverse communities. The longitudinal data collection and analysis means to cover everything from basic health care to the urban-rural linkages continuum which will inform population, health, and socio-economic patterns of migration.

The GRT, whose mission it is to achieve research larger than any one institution can achieve on its own, has succeeded in its first proposal and, supported by the GRT, the SAPRIN team will engage all interested at UP and build a diverse and complex research network. 

- Author Jonathan Tager

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