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21 January 2021

National COVID-19 Antibody Survey (NCAS) research team responds to misperceptions and fake news

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Thursday 21 January 2021 – 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), is currently continuing with the implementation of Wave 1 of the National COVID-19 Antibody Survey (NCAS).  This survey is fully supported by the Department of Health.

Fieldwork around the country, which is being conducted by Epicentre, is continuing following the end of year holidays. The participation of South Africans in this survey is crucial to being able to understand and generate a national estimate of what proportion of South Africans may have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2  (or COVID-19) virus, 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.  South Africans are therefore requested to participate in this study.

There have been some misperceptions and false information about this survey.  One of these is that this is an attempt to vaccinate respondents, and cause harm to them.

The research team wishes to unequivocally state 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.

Most importantly, a vaccine against COVID-19  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 for NCAS survey is currently working closely with stakeholders in the various provinces to ensure that the correct information is shared in communities.  The 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.

The HSRC-led research consortium reiterates that the participation of South Africans is crucial to the success of the survey and accuracy of the results which will be used to assist the government in  any further planning and refinement of the national response to the COVID-19 epidemic in the country.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Manusha Pillai
Mobile:  082 389 3587