The Johannesburg-based Wits HIV Research Group (WHRG), a partnership between Wits Helen Joseph Hospital Clinical Research Site (HJH CRS) and Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI), is located at the epicentre of the HIV and tuberculosis (TB) epidemics globally, and in the most populous city in South Africa.
The Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU) is part of the WITS HIV Research Group Clinical Trials Unit (WHRG CTU) and as part of this institutional arrangement, CHRU is referred to as the WITS Helen Joseph Hospital Research Site.
Since its inception as a NIAID-funded research unit in 2006, this multi-disciplinary research group has contributed significantly to the global scientific agenda on HIV and TB, with funding from the NIH/NIAID, USAID, European and Developing Countries Trials Partnership (EDCTP), Wellcome Trust, UKAID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since 2007, the WHRG has contributed to over 60 NIAID studies, with over 600 own publications linked to HIV and TB prevention, treatment and laboratory sciences.
WHRG investigators have a demonstrated track record of working together within a CTU, supported by the institutional frameworks of Wits University, and the grants management subsidiary Wits Health Consortium(Pty) Ltd.
The WHRG CTU has outstanding clinical, epidemiological and social science researchers and is supported by state-of-the-art laboratories led by leading scientists in the field.
These strengths have been leveraged to ensure a strong multi-disciplinary approach to the challenges presented by the HIV and TB epidemics.
A unique feature of the WHRG CTU is that the institution is also a PEPFAR partner. PEPFAR funds have been used to improve local health services for HIV and TB, and to strengthen linkages to research sites. This ensures continuity of care for participants when trials are completed.
The integration of laboratory, clinical and social sciences is a unique strength of this CTU, and allows it to meet the scientific objectives of the NIAID networks.
It is also home to a multidisciplinary team of research experts who have conducted NIH/NIAID/DAIDS Network-supported research for over 20 years, and made a significant contribution to the scientific agenda of the DAIDS Networks.
In the current funding cycle, the CTU has participated in four Networks (ACTG, HPTN, MTN and IMPAACT) with four well established CRSs.
It is enabled by a significant infrastructure, linked to Wits University, the highest rated University in Africa, and the South African Department of Health.
WITS Helen Joseph Hospital Research Site
Helen Joseph Hospital is a government public hospital providing tertiary health care services to the community of Gauteng, focused on the City of Joburg. The WITS Helen Joseph Hospital Research Site (CHRU) itself has four key research sites – one alongside the hospital in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, located a few kilometres away from the University of Witwatersrand. The second research site is located at the Sizwe Tropical Disease Hospital in Sandringham, Johannesburg. The third site is in Durban and the fourth site located in Port Elizabeth.
Urban regeneration and community based healthcare come together in the Hillbrow Health Precinct
The Hillbrow Health Precinct (HPP) in Johannesburg’s inner city brings urban regeneration and community-based health care together and was set up as a partnership between the City of Johannesburg, the Gauteng Department of Health and the Wits RHI. It is a visionary, world-first and internationally recognised health precinct addressing HIV and related diseases, poverty and urban renewal. It is a model that can be replicated in other urban centres in SA and across the world.
The Wits RHI head office is located in the renovated Hugh Solomon Building in Klein Street and there are three CRSs located in close proximity of each other in the precinct:
- The Shandukani CRS has corporate sector support and is a centre of excellence for maternal and child health. It is ideally located for maternal studies recruiting pre- and post natally infected infants, including paediatric participants, as well for collaboration with the adolescent population.
- The Ward 21 CRS is also made possible through a public-private partnership and is suitably located to conduct HIV clinical research in adolescent and adult populations, those who are HIV uninfected but at high risk, those with acute HIV infection, those with established infection, either off or on ART as well as in at-risk adolescent and adult populations.
- The Research Centre (RC) CRS has state of the art facilities and designated spaces for clinical research in heterosexual men, men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender women (TGW) and sex workers (SW). The first demonstration project with PrEP for female sex workers in South Africa (TAPS) as well as large observational study among MSM/TGW (TRANSFORM) were conducted at the CRS. It is located near the Wits RHI Key Population Clinic.
The co-location of all of these Clinical Research Sites (CRS) allows for health services that serve large communities while providing access to populations for ongoing cohort development.