National COVID-19 study underway

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), together with its research partners, is currently conducting the first leg of the National COVID-19 Antibody Survey (NCAS).

President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced the study in September.

The HSRC is conducting the study with Epicentre, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

“The survey aims 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,” the HSRC explained.

According to the HSRC, the data intends to assist the country to understand the widespread virus, identify factors driving infections, and further estimate the number of all individuals who have been previously infected, including those who were either not tested or did not show any signs of infection.

The survey will include 19 000 interviews with people over the age of 12 in all nine provinces.

“The trained field teams will visit selected households and conduct interviews aimed at assessing the history of infection, exposure to contacts, comorbidities and practices such as hand washing and social distancing,” the HSRC said, adding that the interviews will not be longer than 20 minutes.

Also, a qualified nurse will request a small blood sample from each respondent that will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies.

According to the HSRC, 10% of the participants who live in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria will be asked to provide an additional blood sample to determine how the body responds to the virus.

“The results will be linked to the information provided in the questionnaires to understand how COVID-19 is spread in communities,” said the HSRC.

The survey is currently in progress and is expected to be concluded later in the month, while the second stage will be conducted from January to February 2021.

“The survey team invites the participation of all the pre-selected households in this important and very necessary survey, which will help inform South Africa’s response to the pandemic,” said the HSRC.

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

Similar surveys are being conducted globally to ascertain, more accurately, the impact of COVID-19 and infection rates.

The HSRC said the results of the survey will be used to assist government to further plan and develop the national response to the COVID-19 epidemic in the country.

The HSRC-led research consortium pleaded with the randomly pre-selected households to participate in this survey in order to obtain more reliable findings. – SAnews.gov.za

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