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Wits RHI is one of the leading multi-disciplinary research institutes in Africa with an extensive portfolio that includes research, programmatic support, training, policy development, health strengthening and technical assistance at national and international levels.

In recognition of our outstanding research output and strong international standing, Wits RHI was conferred an institute status by the University of the Witwatersrand in 2010. The institute is part of the Faculty of Health Sciences and is the largest research institute of the University of the Witwatersrand.

Wits RHI has shaped itself as an African institute leading multidisciplinary research, focusing mainly on HIV, sexual reproductive health (SRH) and vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). Recently, Wits RHI expanded its portfolio to include COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens, emerging global health crises (including antimicrobial resistance), and climate change and health.

Under the leadership of Prof Helen Rees, the institute participated in ground-breaking COVID-19 studies and interventions. These interventions are aimed at determining effective and safe COVID-19 treatments, prevention, and better understanding of COVID-19 transmission. We have an extensive portfolio that includes research, programmatic support, training, policy development, health strengthening and technical assistance at national and international levels.  The institute has a spread of activities, relevant to an African academic institution.

HIV/TB and STIs

Our work spans the continuum of HIV care, including the development of ground-breaking HIV prevention interventions and technologies. We also support the optimisation of HIV and TB treatment with a focus on mother-infant pairs in the context of new antiretroviral and TB treatment introductions. We have developed innovative HIV prevention and treatment service delivery models that have largely been shaped by the need for uninterrupted service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Service delivery models have been tailored to best suit the needs of the vulnerable populations we serve. This includes adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), transgender communities and sex workers. Our STI research portfolio includes the testing, prevention and development of new vaccines and drugs for gonorrhoea, given the context of emerging antimicrobial resistance.

Sexual Reproductive Health

Our research agenda prioritises the intersection of SRH and the introduction of HIV prevention technologies and services. We focus on the development of new contraception technologies and the understanding of the vaginal microbiome. Our strategy also focuses on supporting the scale-up of interventions to eliminate cervical cancer, using novel screening and vaccination approaches. We will continue to use implementation science to support systems-strengthening approaches for SRH programmes.

Immunisations and Vaccine-preventable Diseases (VPDs)

As a leading partner in the African Local Initiative for Vaccinology Expertise (ALIVE) Consortium, we have developed an agenda that evaluates new vaccines for maternal immunisation, TB, STIs and exploratory work on HIV vaccines. We will continue to drive vaccine research by identifying questions relative to understanding disease burden, optimising vaccine schedules, such as for the human papillomavirus (HPV), and measuring the impact of new vaccine introduction, such as HPV and maternal vaccines. We will support the development of new vaccines that prevent pathogens relating to AMR, including the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and gonorrhoea.

Emerging Health Issues

We have broadened our current focus areas and research to address emerging public health agendas that impact the global world and the communities we serve. Our agenda explores interventions to address vulnerabilities associated with age, gender and marginalisation in relation to these emerging health issues. We are continuously adapting our emphasis for relevance, both in existing focus areas and in new areas of COVID-19, and climate and health.

COVID-19

Since the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2019, we have responded to a clarion call for contributions towards multiple national and global COVID-19 defences. We subsequently expanded our portfolio of work to support the development of COVID-19 interventions. During 2021, we continued to participate in ground-breaking COVID-19 studies and interventions, extending these to maternal and child cohorts. We contributed to interventions aimed at determining effective and safe COVID-19 treatment, prevention and a better understanding of COVID-19 transmission. These studies and initiatives were launched at local, national and international level through partnerships with other health organisations and countries.

Climate and Health

The focus of our climate and health work is on the impact of extreme heat on pregnant women, infants and health workers. We have strategically targeted pregnant women and infants as these are the population groups that are placed in the centre of almost all health programmes in Africa, and are increasingly recognised as a key population in the climate change response. In our work, we highlight the need for the health sector’s response to the climate crisis to buttress the resilience of health systems against extreme heat.  All our projects apply rigorous research methods in field conditions to establish the effectiveness of interventions in real-world settings. These interventions are intended to be implemented at a large scale, adapted to different conditions. These projects constitute a coherent body of research; each one covering different aspects of heat exposure, health outcomes and populations groups, as well as a wide range of climate zones, urban or rural areas, and different socio-economic strata.

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