population research project focusing on low-income communities in Johannesburg has been launched by the universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Pretoria 

The Gauteng Research Triangle (GRT), a consortium comprising Wits university, the University of Pretoria and the University of Johannesburg (UJ), has initiated the Health and Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS) which aims to improve the quality of life of residents living in Hillbrow, Melusi and Atteridgeville.  

The project is one of five research nodes currently in operation under the broader umbrella of the South African Population Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN). SAPRIN, funded by the national department of science and technology, generates health and demographic data at its various nodes.  The aim of the project is to assist government to better design service delivery, employment opportunities and mobility.   

“We are focusing on the poor – but in different urban settings, and with some more and some less poor – to try and provide an accurate picture of policy and service delivery needs, impact and planning for Gauteng,” said Professor David Everatt, chairperson of the South African Statistics Council and principal investigator of the GRT.  These interviews will include tests such as blood spot analysis and BMI, according to Everatt.  

The Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) will be responsible for interviewing 50 000 of the 100 000-respondent target per year in the Hillbrow area Ethical protocols are still under review, and the data collection is only expected to begin in 2021. The trans-disciplinary approach of the HDSS is to ensure that high quality statistics on gender, migrant status, class, identity and socio-economic status are understood on an intimate level in these five locations.  

This feedback will be given to community boards and government so that smaller projects to assist the community can be carried out regarding food security, space and workEveratt told Wits Vuvuzela. 

Professor DanieMashaoexecutive dean of the faculty of engineering & the built environment at UJ, and one of the collaborators on the projecttold Wits Vuvuzela, that a wide range of skills are needed to conduct a HDSS project of this scale. The engineering aspect of the research will involve data models, data science and artificial intelligence.  

“We want to look at what technology is doing, how technology is changing people’s lives, how it is impacting them and how are they adapting to it,” said Mashao. 

The Gauteng HDSS is a longitudinal study, according to Mashao, which means that the same respondents will be tracked over a span of many years rather than a once off statistical approach 

“It is not something you can do in psychology only, it is not something you can do in medicine only or something you can do in engineering only. It is something that requires a lot of expertise,” Mashao said of the longitudinal study.

The project is expected to run in the longer-term dependent on the availability of funding.  The results of the data will happen through academic papers and via factsheets which will be released to the public and to the respondents.  

FEATURED IMAGE: A new research node of the South African Population Infrastructure Network has been established in Gauteng. The project, under the auspices of the universities of the Witwatersrand, Pretoria and Johannesburg, is expected to generate health and population data over an extended period of time. PHOTO: File.