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29 Jan 2021

National COVID-19 Antibody Survey (NCAS) not a covert vaccination attempt says Limpopo Department of Health

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, 28 January 2021 – The Limpopo Provincial Health Department and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), together with research partners, Epicentre, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), have noted some erroneous news reports and public sentiments about the COVID-19 Antibody Survey that is currently underway in various provinces, particularly Limpopo.

The Provincial Health Department and the Human Sciences Research Council reiterates that this is a national survey previously announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Minister of Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.

This survey aims to understand the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in a representative sample of people living in South African.  This will tell the research team if more people had been infected with COVID-19 than previously reported, including those who may have been infected without knowing either due to being asymptomatic, having mild symptoms, or not being able to access testing facilities.  

In this regard, the Limpopo Provincial Health Department, the HSRC and research partners unequivocally reiterate that:
•    This survey is only aimed at understanding the extent of COVID-19 infections in South Africa.
•    There is no attempt to vaccinate respondents.  
•    Participation in the survey is also  entirely voluntary after information about the survey is presented to those who are eligible to participate.

Any attempt to vaccinate those who participate in this survey, against their will and knowledge, will be unethical and in violation of their human rights.  In addition, this cannot be a covert attempt to vaccinate participants since the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available in South Africa.

When supplies of the vaccine arrive in the country, it will be rolled out according to the national vaccination strategy which will be managed by the national and provincial health departments.  Supplies will also be controlled and safeguarded in line with pre-determined protocols.

The research team also reiterates that the interviews and blood sample collection is being administered under COVID-19 safety protocols. The processes are  safe and in no way present any danger to participants.

At the same time the Provincial Health Department, HSRC and partners call on members of the community to be vigilant when approached by parties to participate in COVID-19 surveys or tests.  The team in question should provide proof of employment with the organisation they claim to represent, proof or confirmation that they are authorised to do the survey and should be appropriately branded to reflect the organisation they claim to represent.

Any unscrupulous behaviour should be reported immediately to the Project Directors:

Johan Andries Van Zyl: JAVanZyl@hsrc.ac.za
Whadi-ah W. Parker: WParker@hsrc.ac.za
Cherie  Cawood: cheriec@epicentre.org.za
Or call the study control room on 087 072 5300

Research Methodology

•    19000 interviews with people over 12 years of age in each of the nine (9) provinces
•    Trained field teams will visit selected households and conduct interviews aimed at assessing the history of infection, exposure to contacts, co-morbidities, and practices such as hand washing and social distancing.  The interviews will not be longer than 20 minutes.
•    A qualified nurse (phlebotomist) will request a small blood sample from each respondent that will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies.
•    10% of the participants who live in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria will be asked to provide an additional blood sample to be tested to ascertain how the body responds to the COVID-19 virus.
•    The results will be linked to the information provided in the questionnaires to understand how COVID-19 is spread in communities.

The blood samples and data from the questionnaires will subsequently be analysed following which the results will be publicly released to the nation.

Media who are interested in joining the research teams should please contact Manusha Pillai on 082 389 3587 or mpillai@hsrc.ac.za to make arrangements.

About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organizations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

About Epicentre
Epicentre was founded in 2001 and is an independent organisation that is committed to creating a positive impact on the health and wellness in South Africa. Epicentre aims to close the gap between unscreened, undiagnosed, and uncontrolled HIV & COVID-19 infections as well as other chronic diseases.
https://epicentre.org.za/

About the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases provides  reference microbiology, virology, epidemiology, surveillance and public health research to support the government’s response to communicable disease threats. The NICD serves as a resource of knowledge and expertise of communicable diseases to the South African Government, Southern African Development Community countries and the African continent. The institution assists in the planning of policies and programmes to support and respond to communicable diseases.
https://www.nicd.ac.za/

About the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) was established in 1969 to conduct and fund health research, health innovation, development and research translation. The SAMRC focuses on the top ten causes of mortality, co-morbidities, disability and associated risk factors. The scope of research includes laboratory investigations, pre-clinical and clinical research, and public health studies.
https://www.samrc.ac.za/

About the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS)
The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) is the largest diagnostic pathology service in South Africa, with the responsibility of supporting the national and provincial health departments in the delivery of healthcare. The NHLS provides laboratory and related public health services to over 80% of the population through a national network of laboratories.
https://www.nhls.ac.za/

Join the conversation at:
 www.hsrc.ac.za    
  https://twitter.com/HSRCza
  http://www.facebook.com/HumanSciencesResearchCouncil

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Manusha Pillai
Mobile:  082 389 3587
Email: MPillai@hsrc.ac.za

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