Department of Science and Technology

Wednesday, 1 November  2017


ICC, Cape Town  


South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN) is part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR).


The Roadmap is the apex of a long and deep commitment by South Africa to infrastructure development: over the last 8 years the DST has invested more than R2.7 billion in R&D infrastructure, R1.5 billion in cyber-infrastructure, and R3.5 billion in the Meerkat and SKA project. 


The overall objective of the Roadmap is to provide a framework for planning the provision of research infrastructures necessary for a sustainable national system of innovation.


The Roadmap was also developed with the understanding that excellent research infrastructure is essential to excellent research.


South Africa is overcoming a legacy of social injustice and health and socio-economic inequality.   


However, we face several challenges, including high to very high levels of inequality; a high unemployment rate; 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.


SAPRIN was launched in the 2016/17 financial year and the DST will invest R99 million over 3 years. The South African Medical Research Council will host SAPRIN.


SAPRIN will, first, draw together and harmonise all three of South Africa’s existing health and demographic surveillance sites; and second, lead the effort of developing new national infrastructures that are deliberately sited in urban settings. 


The current surveillance covers 250,000 persons of all ages; urban extensions will extend this to 550,000 which is around 1% of the SA census population. 


The outcome will be a sustained national research platform linked with universities and research councils, covering rural and urban settings.


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 SAPRIN registration systems will be complemented by linking to public sector records of health system utilisation, school attendance and access to social grants, to enable research on the factors associated with access to services or lack thereof.


Communities in which SAPRIN nodes are embedded are crucial partners in the work.


Care will be taken to interface with community structures in multiple ways, including routinely feeding back research findings, supporting the use of research data and running a Community Advisory Board.


SAPRIN will have relationships to key government ministries including health and social development and it will interact with cross-cutting public institutions like Statistics-SA and Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency.


The project will integrate the three existing SAPRIN nodes in South Africa namely:


   Agincourt node in Bushbuckridge District, Mpumalanga, established in 1992 with a current population of 115,000;


   Dikgale node in Dikgale District, Limpopo, established in 1996, with a current population of 35,000;


   the Africa Centre in uMkhanyakude District, KwaZulu-Natal, established in 2000, with a population of 165,000. 


Then, the network of SAPRIN nodes will be expanded to include new nodes in Gauteng (urban), eThekwini (urban), Eastern Cape (rural) and Western Cape (urban).


The expanded network will cover a more inclusive spectrum of sections of impoverished yet dynamically developing populations, and incorporate dynamic, bi-directional, migration flows linking poor, rural communities with urban centres.


To my mind the impact of SAPRIN will be felt in two major ways.


First, in producing up-to-date, longitudinal data on South Africa’s fast-changing poorer communities (the outcome will be more accessible, dynamic and timely data).


Second, in 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). 


We live in a data-driven society.


Big data” offers enormous opportunities and challenges.


Through infrastructures such as our Centre for High-Performance Computing and our high-speed South African National Research Network, and now SAPRIN we will “ride the wave of big data”.