University of Cape Town, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health


The MRC Unit on Child and Adolescent Health provides a setting for innovative clinical research to address the major health problems facing African children. The Unit is fully equipped for ambulatory care of patients. This site provides access to leading paediatric specialist care, outstanding clinical research infrastructure, and close proximity to state of the art laboratory facilities (at IIDMM at UCT).

Red Cross Hospital (RCH) is the major tertiary hospital and referral centre for the Western Cape, the region with the world's highest incidence of tuberculosis (TB), and the main teaching hospital of UCT for paediatric disciplines. Red Cross Hospital (RCH) is the largest children's hospital in Africa, providing comprehensive specialized care for children and comprising a 290-bed institution. The hospital serves more than 300,000 outpatients and admits over 30,000 inpatients annually.
Additionally, the Unit developed and manages the Drakenstein Child Health Study (DCHS), a birth cohort established to investigate the epidemiology, aetiology and risk factors affecting child health, particularly chronic respiratory disease and measures infectious and non-infectious exposures form pregnancy through early childhood. To date, the study has enrolled over 1200 mother-child pairs and has established a biobank containing more than 91,000 specimens and an electronic database.

International Experience

Professor Zar established one of the first South African training programs in paediatric pulmonology from which there have been over 15 successful graduates in the past 5 years from sub-Saharan African countries including South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. Graduates have returned to their home institutions to increase local clinical capacity for providing child lung health.
In addition, she has been involved in capacity development through the Pan African Thoracic society (PATS – on which she currently serves as the President. Capacity development has occurred in several ways including involvement in a clinical methods research training program (MECOR – methods in epidemiological, clinical and operational research in respiratory diseases), which has trained more than 100 African health care professionals in clinical research in lung health over a 5 year period.
As Head of Department of Paediatrics, Prof Zar has overseen the development of a successful African Fellowship paediatric training (APFP) program at RCH, UCT. This clinical training program involves partnerships with 22 African academic centres and trains African paediatricians, paediatric sub-specialists, nurses and allied health professionals, enabling much capacity development. Since 2009, the APFP has trained over 77 paediatricians in general paediatrics, and many different paediatric sub-specialities.

Research infrastructure

The Unit is fully equipped for paediatric specialist and ambulatory care, includes three examination rooms, a pharmacy, child-friendly waiting room, sophisticated on-site radiological facilities, sputum induction room, lung function room, ECHO room, resuscitation trolley, ECG Machine, BP monitors with cuffs, defibrillator, baby scales, 30 networked computers, LAN, administrative/management office space, and close proximity to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities.
In early 2017, the Unit opened a satellite site at Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth in an effort to increase capacity for accurate TB diagnosis in a high burden area.
The DCHS cohort offers considerable clinical and laboratory expertise, has established the first lung function testing in African children, conducts state of the art viral and microbial investigations and nasopharyngeal and stool microbiome analyses with a focus on capacity building for African scientists. Currently DCHS trains and supports 10 masters and 19 PhD students.
Our existing, full-time clinical research staff is comprised of five research doctors, fifteen research nurses, two pharmacists, three pulmonary technologists, a cardiac technologist, three data capturers, five data managers/analysts, and over fourteen community health workers. The MRC unit is supported by the administrative and finance staff in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, UCT.

  • Host center eligibility:

    Global fellowships (outgoing initial phase only)

  • Research areas:

    Asthma \ Biomarkers \ Cough \ Environmental medicine&lung diseases \ Epidemiology \ Epigenetics \ Immunology \ Paediatrics \ Spirometry \ Tuberculosis - TB

  • Type of research:

    Clinical Science

  • Address:

    Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital,
    MRC Unit on Child and Adolescent Health
    REACH Unit B11,
    Corner of Klipfontein and Milner Roads,
    Rondebosch, Cape Town 7700,
    South Africa

  • Contact person 1:

    Heather Zar

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  • Contact person 2:

    Cynthia Whitman

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