South African Population Research
Infrastructure Network


South Africa is emerging from a legacy of gross social injustice and consequent health and socio-economic inequalities, and is striving to become a country where all citizens can access ever-broadening opportunities and build productive lives for themselves. However, stewardship of the country faces several challenges, including high to very high levels of inequality, with a Gini coefficient of 0.66; an unemployment rate of 26%; a poverty headcount ratio of 57%; as well as colliding epidemics of HIV/TB and non-communicable diseases. This underlines the need for improved, science-based information and advice to direct development-oriented decision-making, investments and interventions.


A Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System is a standardised, field-based information system engaged in the prospective collection of population, health and socio-economic data for geographically-defined sections of impoverished and developmentally-constrained communities, both rural and urban. Data and findings apply widely and are easily scalable. Individual and household indicators that will be routinely collected and assessed include:

  • Vital events, i.e. births and deaths (by cause)
  • 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 utilization, school attendance and access to social grants in order to enable research on the factors associated with access to services or lack thereof.

Outcomes and impact

  1. Up-to-date, longitudinal data representative of South Africa’s fast-changing poorer communities for research, interpretation and calibration of national datasets (the outcome will be more accessible, dynamic and timely data)
  2. Access to an extensive, interdisciplinary research platform for researchers from universities, science councils, other organisations, including regional and international collaborations (the outcome will be improved research output)
  3. An evidence-base for cost evaluation, policy making and targeting intervention programmes, thereby improving the accuracy and efficiency of pro-poor, health and wellbeing interventions (the outcome will be reduced costs and making poorer South Africans healthier and better-off)
  4. An expanded human capacity for conducting advanced research that is effectively linked with national, regional and international networks (the outcome will be an elevated capacity for conducting science in the country)