Roadmap on how MUT and Usinga will collaborate

Seated are Professor Nokuthula Sibiya, right, with Professor Moosa Moshabela, also seated, with MUT and UKZN staff members outside MUT Council Chamber

The UKZN delegation led by Professor Mosa Moshabela provided clarity on vehicles with USINGA, MUT and UKZN logos on the side, driving out of MUT in the morning, and returning in the afternoon. The Durban University of Technology is also another partner in the project. This triangle of institutions was deliberately formed to take advantages of what these institutions can bring to the project. For instance, MUT is in the Umlazi Township; its staff and students have a better understanding of the township. During the meeting it was also highlighted that MUT, as university of technology, would be able to bring technical know-how to the project.

The USINGA node is within the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN), which currently has six nodes, three of which are in rural areas and three are in peri-urban areas. Project Manager, Palesa Mataboge, also said they came to formalise the relationship they already have with MUT’s Research directorate, and to formally invite MUT to be part of the USINGA project. According to Mataboge, USINGA is a Health and Demographic Surveillance project they are conducting in Umlazi Township’s Wards 79 and 82. “It is a population-based health and vital event registration system that monitors demographic and health events in a geographically defined population at regular intervals. As an HDSS (Health and Demographic Surveillance Site), we collect census data from households from Wards 79 and 82. The data we collect is standardized across SAPRIN nodes.”

Mataboge said at this baseline stage, they were collecting data on location geo-points, households and biographical information about the people that live in these locations. “Overtime we will introduce individual components which will include individual health components, data collection through the call centre, and gather more detail on migration, death, and births. However, the vision of USINGA extends beyond data collection and dissemination as we aim to create a platform for community-driven research interventions.”

Mataboge said their vision was to develop a people-centred demographic, health, and socio-economic surveillance system within a lower income, urban community characterized by extreme health challenges. Mataboge added that the “unique” focus of this node was on the youthful population of Umlazi Township, which provides prospects for the demographic dividend and a window of opportunity for inter- and trans-disciplinary research that would generate evidence to inform policy and practice, both locally and nationally, with potential adaptability on a global scale in other low and middle-income countries.

Mataboge said they aimed to build a trusted source of longitudinal surveillance data which would support evidence-based policy, decision-making and aid the development of appropriate and timely programmes and initiatives to address the most urgent needs in the area. “Such an understanding of the population and their health and socio-economic challenges, combined with the surveillance infrastructure, will provide a powerful platform to evaluate interventions aimed at improving population well-being. This is a step towards progressing national and regional health, social, economic, and environmental development goals,” said Mataboge.

Mataboge also said that while demographic, health, social and economic factors were vital sources of information that would be collected in the node, “we acknowledge that the country, and more specifically the eThekwini Municipality, has experienced a spate of social, economic and environmental shocks which have exacerbated levels of unemployment, poverty and infectious diseases. For instance, this node provides a unique context during the Covid-19 pandemic, post the July 2021 civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, and the most recent floods which caused widespread devastation and destruction across the city”. Mataboge also said that because of these recent events, little was known of the short and long-term effects on populations and households in an under-resourced peri-urban community.

MUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement (RIE), Professor Nokuthula Sibiya, said the two institutions were going to prepare for the signing of an MOU, which would guide their relationship, and take care of teething problems. Professor Sibiya also highlighted that USINGA was an opportunity for the University’s researchers to apply their skills in the project that aims to improve the lives of the communities, and influence government policy.