Our woman in Africa
18 July 2006
Professor Marie-Louise Newell, UCL Institute of Child Health, recently took up a secondment as Director of the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, in South Africa.
A joint project of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Medical Research Council of South Africa, with funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Africa Centre (AC) was set up eight years ago to work in partnership with the local community to conduct policy-relevant research into health and population, and to enhance the research capacity of sub-Saharan Africa.
Writing for the R&D Bulletin from the UCL Institute of Child Health, Professor Newell outlined the work of the AC and some the challenges it faces. Among other research mechanisms, the AC has developed the Demographic Surveillance System (DSS), which collects census data and registers all births, deaths and migration into or out of a defined geographical area. It is one of the most comprehensive demographic studies in Africa, and brings together scientists from around the world to research, develop local capacity and identify ways to overcome the health challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa. Demographic and health data provides the platform for research into communities, lifestyles and health. Monitoring changes allows the AC to evaluate interventions for a number of pressing health problems, such as HIV.
Professor Newell wrote that, as Director: "My research priority will be to focus the research on the unique contribution the AC can make to knowledge about health populations in a rural area; to find what the AC environment allows to be done that cannot be done elsewhere."
She added: "It is a great privilege to be the new director of the AC. I have been involved with the Centre since its beginning in 1998, in particular with the Vertical Transmission Study, which aims to evaluate the feasibility of exclusive breastfeeding in a rural population and to estimate the rates of mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection associated with exclusive breastfeeding."