Informal Settlement Health Research

Future-Proofing Communities Post-COVID-19: Gearing Community-Based Platforms For The Fourth Industrial Revolution


The University of Pretoria’s Department of Family Medicine (DFM) has developed a community-based platform that aims to future-proof our destitute communities with a sustainable solution that ensure that the basic needs of healthcare and nutrition are covered, while still equipping and empowering them with access to education and technology for both youth and adults. For over 8 years, the DFM has established itself as a partner for health care for the most vulnerable communities in Tshwane. Community Orientated Primary Care (COPC), a service-learning model of the Family Medicine Department, has established an efficient holistic health support network for three informal settlements in Pretoria.


More than half of South Africa’s population is living in poverty. In a nation where the gap between the haves and have-nots is so vast, COVID-19 has further aggravated this disparity. The lockdown has highlighted society’s progression into the fourth industrial revolution, where physicality has been seamlessly replaced by virtual spaces and technology – but only by those with access to it.


With the shutdown of workplaces, schools and universities, work meetings, classes and studies have simply taken place online, allowing for “business as usual”. But, where does that leave the approximately 70% of the nation’s learners who lack access to online facilities, particularly in our remote rural areas and townships? The youth will be leading us into the fourth industrial revolution, so it’s imperative that they’re equipped now to be able to do so. In a country with a junk-status economy, we simply cannot afford to fall behind any further due to a lack of access to digital infrastructure.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the dire and immediate need of our vulnerable communities for basic necessities, such as sufficient nutrition and medical access. But how do we future-proof these community initiatives to survive the disparities of society post-COVID-19?


The Zama Zama informal settlement was the first site where UP, Department of Family and COPC research unit’s holistic approach that integrates health, nutrition and maternal and child education as vital pillars within their community-based platform was implemented. The clinic and kitchen combo in Zama Zama offers free primary care services, whilst focusing on maternal and child health and education with weekly cooking demonstrations and communal eating for patients waiting to be seen. In partnership with Rotary and other NGOs over the last two years, they have been putting this model into practice in the community of Melusi (also known as Gomora) by establishing a Holistic Health Hub – and they have a future vision to execute the same in their other Tshwane locations. The first phase of the health hub entailed a clinic container that was donated from the USA via Matter and Rotary for Melusi. Altogether, the research unit has programs running in four informal settlements around Pretoria. This includes Woodlane Village and Cemetery View in the East of Pretoria and Melusi and Zama Zama in the West. These projects combine service-learning by the inter-disciplinary team and students in combination with research to come up with tailored solutions for the communities that are sustainable and reproducible. The COPC research unit employs community health workers residing in these informal settlements to offer continuous care that is community-based and informed by the residents themselves.


To empower the community and strengthen local health and social development, the work and research will be expanded in the next few years as from 2021 with a five year research project in Cemetery View on a Food System supported by health, training and education. The Melusi community will also benefit from a project in partnership with Rotary and Matter NPO that is in an internationally based project focused on maternal and child health with the aim of developing local capacity and infrastructure. The Holistic Health Hub will be expanded on further after Covid_19 and consists of four modules: a Health Pod, a Kitchen Pod (including vegetable garden), an Education and Safety Pod and a Communal Ablution Block. The key aim of the Holistic Health Hub is to create an efficient community platform that is ultimately sustainable by the community members themselves.

“We believe person-centric care is critical in addressing poverty. We get to know our community so we know how to help them – and we’ve spent years establishing a trusted relationship with them. Our holistic health support approach focuses on four essential components: health, social stability, maternal and child education and nutrition,” says the DFM’s Dr Ellenore Meyer. 

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- Author Ellenore Meyer

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