The DST/MRC South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN) is a new national asset that will generate high-quality evidence to inform interventions aimed at responding to some of South Africa’s biggest issues which include poverty, inequality, unemployment and poor access to effective health care.  This national research platform is linked with cross-cutting public institutions such as universities, research councils, the ministries of Health, Social Development, Basic Education, Statistics-SA as well as Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency.

“Participating communities are helping to shape an all-inclusive socioeconomic South Africa by providing valuable data that will inform and design life-altering interventions and strategies in response to the country’s biggest challenges”, says SAPRIN Director Professor Mark Collinson. “SAPRIN integrates public, private and academic sectors in a long-term partnership, to produce first-rate, highly-relevant research.”

SAPRIN will link, integrate and standardise Africa Health Research Institute’s (AHRI’s) Population Intervention Programme in uMkhanyakude, KwaZulu-Natal, with the MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, and the University of Limpopo’s Dikgale Health and Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS).

These three rural sites will be expanded to include urban areas of Gauteng, eThekwini, the Western Cape and rural areas of the Eastern Cape to cover a more inclusive spectrum of sections of impoverished yet dynamically developing populations.

“SAPRIN currently hosts a number of research studies and is set to attract external research funds that will multiply the investment by the Department of Science and Technology,” says Dr Kobus Herbst, the SAPRIN Co-Lead and AHRI’s Chief Information Officer. “This also provides the perfect opportunity to maximise synergies and to accelerate local innovations in the Health arena”.

Current surveillance covers 250 000 persons of all ages and is set to increase to 550 000 which is around one percent of the South African census population. Several factors such as rapid migration and urbanisation were taken into consideration in the decision to expand the number of sites, and the development of the new sites will allow the measurement of bi-directional migration flows which link South African rural communities and urban areas.

Individual and household indicators that will be routinely collected and assessed include vital events such as births and deaths, residence and migration, socio-economic status, disease monitoring, and measures of wellbeing represented by labour status, education and social protection.

The HDSS registration systems will be complemented by linking to public sector records of health system utilisation, school attendance and access to social grants, to enable research on the factors associated with access to services or lack thereof.

“SAPRIN digresses from the public and private sector silo structures encouraging an inclusive system of resolve”, says Professor Richard Gordon, Executive Director: Grants, Innovation and Product Development (GIPD) at the SAMRC.

South African communities are currently faced with several challenges including high levels of inequality; an unemployment rate of 26%; a poverty headcount ratio of 57%; as well as colliding epidemics of HIV/TB and non-communicable diseases. However, a more accurate, accessible and timely reflection of this data, considering rapid urbanisation and migration, is needed to advise and direct development-oriented decision making, investments and interventions that will improve the lives of South Africans.