Research Areas


The study of the interaction between humans and HIV is a complex one. HIV is a disease with stigma and fear associated with it. Educating people and communities about HIV and the advances in treatment and in prevention is core to helping communities grow and cope with HIV in our society. Part of this is helping medical professionals understand the social and emotional tools needed to communicate with HIV positive people and their families and communities. The other part is communicating treatment and health practices to patients and the community.

In order to fight HIV, the whole patient and their environment need to be taken into consideration. This means that secondary conditions which are associated with or exacerbated by HIV need to be researched, and treatment protocols and systems developed to help alleviate these conditions. The DRILL Research focusing on HIV will include looking at the whole patient, rather than just researching better ways to treat HIV. As HIV positive people become longer-lived and asymptomatic, their quality of life can be improved by better healthcare and treatment.

The HIV/AIDS scientific track is led by Professor Mosa Moshabela.

Mental Health

Mental Health diseases are often seen as character flaws or personality defects. As with those who are HIV positive, or have AIDS, people with mental illnesses are often stigmatized by society. They do not receive the support they need to identify their illness, or get help. The perception of many is that mental illness is something that can be dealt with by self-control, or by changing one’s behaviour.

There is an understanding that the body can be diseased, but not an understanding that the brain and mind can have diseases that can be cured or managed with medication and therapy. Many people who suffer from mental illness feel alone and hopeless, as their diseases go undiagnosed and untreated. The research into mental illness and its treatment, therefore, includes research into community, society, and how to manage the misconceptions there are about mental illness within the community. Encouraging people to seek help is a core component of the treatment of mental illness. Understanding that mental health is attainable with treatment is part of destigmatising diseases of the brain and mind.

The mental health scientific track is led by Professor Suvira Ramlall.

Health Professions Education

Research into the education of health professionals requires an understanding of the education that they already receive, and the cultural and societal norms and prejudices that are embedded in this education. Making Health Education appropriate and applicable to the culture and society of the professionals being educated is important in furthering the development of a holistic and representative health system.

As a corollary to this, Health Professionals working in communities need to have knowledge of community identities and social practices in order to assist patients appropriately. There may be cultural practices and norms that health professionals are unaware of, which make treating people a more complex problem than just diagnosis, medication, and advice. DRILL researchers will explore the education they receive, and its application in the community, so as to explore best practices in Health Professions Education, and advise how to improve this within the South African context.

The health professions education scientific track is led by Professor Petra Brysiewicz.

Health Research Ethics

Health research ethics is an important area of knowledge and practice for all health researchers. Research ethics is an integral component of research excellence because research typically requires careful and well-informed attention to the safety, dignity and welfare of research participants’ information, conditions, and lives. Researchers have an obligation to know and apply national and international research ethics guidelines and best practices when they conduct health-related research.

Together with other components of the DRILL programme, this component promotes ethical research and research integrity.
DRILL offers basic and advanced training in research ethics as an integral component of the fellowship training programme.

The health research ethics scientific track is led by Professor Douglas Wassenaar.

Health Systems Strengthening

DRILL research in the Health Systems area focuses on assessing Health Systems structures that are already in place, in an effort to begin the process of designing a system appropriate for South Africa. This includes looking at funding models, rural versus urban needs, and using systems already in place more effectively. This requires not only looking at society, but also engaging with stakeholders in the Department of Health, to learn what they already do, and working where there is possible synergy in-process and structural systems.

The National Health System in the United Kingdom, and the Affordable Care Act in the United States of America are two versions of health systems that have been developed to provide National Healthcare. Both systems have been under attack, for reasons which are more political than practical. The challenge for South Africa is to design a working system, within a political framework that is also controversial. Working with the Department of Health will avoid some of this controversy, but National Healthcare will always have its detractors. The provision of healthcare to the poorest in the nation is, however, necessary to build a successful society where everyone has an equal chance at a healthy and fulfilled life.

The health systems strengthening track is led by Professor Fatima Suleman.

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Research Areas