The South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN) is a partnership between public, and academic institutions, aiming to produce high-quality research. It is part of the Department of Science and Innovation's (DSI) strategy to enhance research capacity in the country and aligns with the DSI's South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR). SAPRIN is hosted by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and operates through three Health and Demographic Surveillance Sites (HDSS) located in Bushbuckridge (Agincourt), Polokwane (DIMAMO), and Mtubatuba (AHRI). Recently, three additional HDSSs have been established in Gauteng (GRT-INSPIRED in Hillbrow, Atteridgeville, and Melusi), the Western Cape (C-SHARP in Bishop Lavis and Nomzamo), and KwaZulu-Natal (USINGA in Umlazi, eThekwini). Each HDSS node aims to have a minimum population of 100,000 people, with a total of over 600,000 individuals and 120,000 geolocated households across the six nodes. This represents approximately 1% of the South African population.
The network aims to produce accessible, dynamic, and timely population-based health and demographic data through coordinated and collaborative efforts. These surveillance sites provide up-to-date, representative, and longitudinal data on diverse communities in South Africa. Additionally, they offer an opportunity to align national datasets, such as those from Statistics South Africa, and integrate various sources like civil registration systems, health facility data, electronic medical records, as well as labour and educational outcomes, with the geolocated longitudinal surveillance data.
One of the network's strengths is its ability to facilitate embedded studies, enabling investigations into a broad range of research including basic science and omics research, qualitative social sciences, randomised clinical trials, implementation science, and environmental science research. The co-occurrence of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental health, and substance abuse can be investigated. This provides valuable insights for understanding patterns of multi-morbidity. The research platform serves as a collaborative space, bringing together institutions, sectors, and researchers for transdisciplinary knowledge exchange and the sharing of expertise. It provides a platform for collaboration among South African, African, and international universities and research institutions, fostering the development of local scientists and nurturing the next generation of researchers.
The platform streamlines the research process in that it reduces the cost for conducting research. This produces an evidence base that can produce accurate cost-efficient information for data-driven decision making. This ultimately yields improved programme delivery and health outcomes for the poorest South Africans.
Community engagement is a strong component of the SAPRIN strategy. The nodes have and continue to build strong rapport with the communities they are located within. This strength is leveraged on to help co-create the science with these communities. This forged important relationships with communities which has resulted in strong buy in from the communities. This asset can aid to understand health challenges and co-create intervention strategies that will change health outcomes in a positive way.
Overall, SAPRIN is a valuable resource for researchers and policymakers working to improve the health and wellbeing of South African communities. Through its focus on collaboration, partnership, and ethical research practices, SAPRIN is helping to build a more robust and responsive research infrastructure in South Africa, and to support evidence-based decision-making and policy development.
The network endeavours to produce accessible, dynamic, and timely coordinated and collaborative population-based health and demographic data. The data from the surveillance sites can provide current, representative, longitudinal data of South Africa’s disparate communities. It further offers an opportunity to aid in calibrating national datasets such as those from Statistics South Africa. National civil registration systems, health facility data, electronic medical records, labour, and educational outcomes can also be linked to the longitudinal geolocated surveillance data.