MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Unit (Agincourt)

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About Us

SAMRC/Wits-Agincourt research seeks local and national relevance and impact while interacting with and contributing to important regional and global questions. The Unit’s priorities and the conduct of research are influenced by long-standing, respectful relationships with local communities; a future-oriented longitudinal perspective; and empirical findings that capture changing health and social dynamics.

The Unit’s mandate is:
In partnership with host communities and local institutions, to better understand and respond to the dynamics of health, population and social transitions in rural South and sub-Saharan Africa, in order to mount a more effective public health, public sector and social response and thereby inform national, regional and global health and development policy and practice.

Broadly, all Unit research addresses four fundamental questions:

  • The unpredictability and pace of evolving health, population, and social transitions
  • The interacting social, environmental, behavioural, and biological determinants and consequences – highlighting vulnerability and resilience – at key stages along the life course
  • When, where, and how to intervene effectively
  • The implications for health, social and developmental sector responses in order to achieve a more equitable and socially and economically productive society.

The Unit’s primary field research base is in a rapidly transitioning rural setting 500km northeast of Johannesburg, adjacent to the Kruger National Park and southern Mozambique. Providing a counterpoint to South Africa’s urban bias, the Unit endeavours to bring the best science to bear in a context where populations carry much of the national burden of disease.

The Agincourt Health and socio-Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS) provides a platform for generating extremely high-resolution longitudinal data leading to new knowledge, and presents opportunities for testing innovative methodology using the latest technologies. The platform now covers genomic, physiological, and clinical data, with nested studies, cohorts, and trials along the life course. Technologies, until recently the preserve of urban or high-income societies, are central to several studies: smartphone apps deliver an intervention for depression in adolescents; DXA measurements for osteoporosis and body composition; MRI scans for dementia.

Making well-characterised data available to research and policy communities is a priority. The Unit builds the capacity of local staff, has a data intern programme, supervises doctoral students, and mentors postdoctoral fellows and early to mid-career researchers. It provides leadership to sub-Saharan African research networks, and partners with leading African, UK, and US institutions.

Altogether, the Unit contributes unique, population-oriented insights to support health and development in rural South and Southern Africa.

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