The MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit is a globally recognised health, population and development research initiative based on the Agincourt health and socio-demographic surveillance system established 30 years ago. The Unit conducts groundbreaking research across the life-course, focusing particularly on adolescent and older adult stages; is highly productive – producing some 100 publications annually; is committed to sharing public access datasets; and engages with local, provincial, national, and global public sector players in research translation.
Situated in resource-poor rural environments, the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit undertakes community-oriented research to elucidate causal pathways, test interventions across the life-course, inform health and social systems, and strengthen evidence to guide policy and programmes.
Research seeks local and national relevance and impact, while interacting with and contributing to important regional and global questions. Influencing priorities and the conduct of research are long-standing, respectful relationships with local communities; a future-oriented longitudinal perspective; and empirical findings that capture changing health and social dynamics.
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 southern Africa, to mount a more effective public health, public sector and social response and thereby inform national, regional, and global policy.
The unpredictability and pace of evolving health, population, and social transitions.
The interacting social and biological determinants and consequences – highlighting vulnerability and resilience – at key stages along the life course.
When, where and how to intervene most effectively.
The implications for health and social sector responses to achieve a more equitable, socially, and economically productive society.
Work is underpinned by the Health and socio-Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS) platform, covering a whole population cohort of ~117,000 persons in 31 adjacent villages, and involving ongoing monitoring of all births, deaths and in- and out-migrations. This population data is linked to clinic and hospital records. Together, this provides an exceptional longitudinal platform for observational and intervention research along the life course, with special focus on children (respiratory infections), adolescents (HIV/AIDS, depression, NCD risk) and older adults (multi-morbidity, cognitive change). Focus on socio-environmental exposures (education, labour migration, socioeconomic status, natural resources, food security) interacts with emphasis on behaviour and physiological risk.
The figure outlines a framework highlighting key research areas:
Framework highlighting key research areas at Agincourt.
The Unit’s primary base is in a rural setting 500km northeast of Johannesburg. 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. It contributes vital evidence, provides leadership to sub-Saharan research networks, and partners with leading African, UK and US institutions. Making well-characterised data available to research and policy communities is a priority. Altogether, the Unit contributes unique, population-oriented insight to support health and development in rural South and southern Africa, while providing advanced research training and career development opportunities.