A leading African academic institution, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) is recognised nationally and internationally for:
- pioneering research,
- innovative services,
- health systems strengthening,
- evidence-based policy development and advocacy, and
- responsive technical support and training.
STRIVE benefits from WRHI’s wide research portfolio, depth of experience and strategic influence and reach. Collaboration focuses on the institute’s intervention research with urban migrants, adolescents and sex workers, and with adolescent girls in rural areas.
Swa Koteka: a randomised controlled trial (RCT) on the potential of a cash transfer programme to reduce risk by keeping girls in school and meeting their immediate needs for cash.
WRHI was made an institute of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of the Witwatersrand in 2010. Originally a reproductive health research unit (RHRU), the institute expanded to include HIV and related diseases, employing over 400 staff on research projects. A WHO Collaborating Centre, WRHI works extensively in the Southern African region in partnership with WHO and UNAIDS.
The institute has implemented RCTs to evaluate the impact of biomedical interventions – STI treatment, microbicides, PrEP – on HIV acquisition. Methodological rigour is combined with a strong community focus, for example in evaluating:
- brothel-based services for sex workers,
- health clubs for inner city migrants, and
- roadside services for long-distance truck drivers.
A unique aspect of WRHI is its location within the inner city of Johannesburg, championing urban regeneration in Hillbrow. Here, WRHI provides services and outreach to vulnerable groups: adolescents, migrants, men and sex workers. An experienced Community Advisory Board of residents and CBOs provide insight and guidance.
WRHI works in other provinces in South Africa and around Africa. Within the University of the Witwatersrand medical school and beyond, WRHI staff teach undergraduates and supervise postgraduates, as well as offering research training to African public health professionals.
WRHI attributes its innovation, academic output and reputation to factors including:
- a multi-disciplinary approach to research,
- support for investigator-initiated research,
- participatory practice and understanding of communities, and
- team of senior academics of national and international standing.
WRHI enjoys representation and participation in strategic HIV structures within and beyond South Africa. Through its focus on social change, the institute studies the pathways by which research may influence policy.
WRHI staff have been influential in:
- developing South Africa’s national plans to manage and control HIV, STIs and TB,
- contributing within the South African National AIDS Council structures
- shaping policies on the treatment and prevention of HIV
- providing technical assistance on national guidelines (contraception, cervical cancer), and
- developing WHO guidelines on STI management.
WRHI designed and evaluated brothel-based STI services for female sex workers. As a result, the institute was invited to make submissions to policy bodies on the public rationale for decriminalising sex work. It continues to participate in strategising on this complex issue.
Strengthening research capacity within South Africa and the African region is an important focus of the institute’s work. Strong relationships link WRHI with health ministries and departments around the continent. These enable WRHI to contribute to developing the next generation of researchers and programme managers for Africa.