The University of the Western Cape is one of four universities in the greater City of Cape Town. UWC, designated as a university for “Coloured” people during the Apartheid Era, has a history of creative struggle against oppression, discrimination and disadvantage. Among academic institutions it has been in the vanguard of South Africa’s historic change, playing a distinctive academic role in helping to build an equitable and dynamic nation. UWC‘s key concerns with access, equity and quality in higher education arise from extensive practical engagement in helping the historically marginalised participate fully in the life of the nation.
This role resulted in many of its senior academics and alumni being appointed, after the first democratic elections, to public office at all levels, including a number in the country’s first national cabinet.
Since the 1980’s, and especially after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the advent of democracy in 1994, UWC has become a multi-racial institution and has attracted leading academics, and is now acknowledged as one of the leading research institutions in South Africa and Africa.
The School was established in 1993 at the University of the Western Cape as the Public Health Programme under the leadership of Prof David Sanders. Its purpose was to strengthen education and research in public health and primary health care and to build capacity in the health services.
Since its inception, the SOPH has established itself as a significant and pioneering initiative in public health with a national and, increasingly, continental influence. Some of its key achievements have been:
- Establishing a multi-level postgraduate programme in the field of public health, including a Masters in Public Health and culminating in doctoral and post doctoral studies in Public Health;
- Providing continuing education opportunities for health and welfare practitioners through our annual Summer and Winter Schools;
- Establishing a substantial integrated research and service programme to which many of our students have contributed;
- Developing training manuals and materials for service providers, arising from research and service work;
- Being designated a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Human Resources for Health Development;
- In 2012, awarded a SARCHI (South African Research Chair Initiative) Chair entitled “Health Systems Complexity and Social Change”; and in 2014, an Extra-Mural MRC (Medical Research Council) Unit entitled “Health Services to Systems Research Unit”;
- Hosting a large cohort study, PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) as part of an international collaborative study examining risk factors for chronic non communicable diseases; and contributing to the new NRF funded multi-centre South African “Centre of Excellence in Food Security”
In line with the overall orientation of the School, most of our research focuses on health policy and systems, social determinants of health and building a district-based public health system. It addresses four inter-related programme areas, namely non-communicable diseases, public health nutrition, maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS and TB.
The School is part of the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences – which also includes the departments of Occupational Therapy; Physiotherapy; Social Work; Natural Medicine; Human Ecology and Dietetics; Sport, Recreation and Exercise Science; Nursing; and Psychology.
The vision of the School of Public Health (SOPH) is the optimal health of populations in developing countries, particularly Africa, living in healthy and sustainable environments with access to appropriate, high quality, comprehensive and equitable health systems, based on a human rights approach.
The purpose of the School is to contribute to developing policy makers and implementers who are knowledgeable and skilled in the principles and practice of public health, whose practice is based on research, influenced by informed and active communities, and implemented with a commitment to equity, social justice and human dignity.
The CoE is a virtual centre and comprises the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the host Institution; the University of Pretoria (UP), the co-host Institution; and researchers at participating Institutions which include the Universities of Cape Town, Fort Hare, Johannesburg, Limpopo, Nelson Mandela, North West, Stellenbosch, and Venda, Tshwane University of Technology, the Agricultural Research Council, Water Research Commission and international partners: Australian National University, City University of New York, International Food Policy Research Institute, Institute of Development Studies, Michigan State University and Missouri University.
The scope of work undertaken by the DST/NRF CoE in Food Security concerns research, capacity building and dissemination on how a sustainable food system can be achieved to realise food security for poor, vulnerable and marginal populations. Food and nutritional security is imperative for human survival with dignity and takes account of economic vitality, social justice, human health and environmental health.