Putting children at the top of the health agenda

Child health is a major challenge for South Africa and for the continent, where there is high childhood mortality and preventable morbidity. There is an epidemic of infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and TB. Research in child health has been particularly under-resourced, given the large burden of disease and the high proportion of children in the South African population.

In October 2013, the Research Centre for Adolescent and Child Health (REACH) was opened at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. This state-of-the-art expanded clinical research centre is devoted to child health and is headed by Professor Heather Zar, head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

REACH is the first of its kind in Africa and also serves as a hub supporting other clinical research sites in the community and at other healthcare facilities, and contributing to the development of capacity in child health and in clinical research.

The centre has about 40 full-time members of staff funded through grant support, and has several local, national and international collaborations. It is undertaking research with an important impact on child health globally.

Studies currently under way address key health priorities such as childhood TB, pneumonia, whooping cough, HIV and adolescence, and diarrhoea. A unique birth cohort study, the Drakenstein Child Lung Health study, is currently under way in Paarl and is supported by this core centre.

This study, a first for Africa, investigates the determinants of child health from the antenatal period through birth and early childhood and includes a focus on maternal and paternal health.

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