About the Programme

Economic and cultural transition in developing nations is causing a shift towards an increasing burden of non-communicable diseases. It is due to this phenomenon that the Wits Non-communicable Diseases Research Leadership Programme was born. A need to understanding the nature, extent and pace of the transition to the emerging diseases of lifestyle in developing country exists and therefore a thorough understanding of the epidemiology and the social, genetic and environmental causes will lead to innovative and affordable interventions and treatments in developing countries.

This programme concentrates on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. The specific aim of the Training Programme is to develop a group of well-trained researchers at the Masters, PhD and post-doctoral levels that will facilitate the crosscutting need to examine in-depth social, genetic, epigenetic, clincial and physiological factors of cardiovascular and metabolic disease to contribute to the understanding of the prevalence of these diseases in southern Africa and provide evidence to monitor and understand the underlying causes to develop effective intervention programmes.

The Training Programme is enabled through the integration and collaboration across several established research programs at the University of the Witwatersrand, including the Soweto Heart Study (SOCRU), the Agincourt Health and Demographic Suveillance Site (Wits/MRC Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit)  and the Birth to Twenty Study (DPHRU), with the aim of understanding the epidemiology, the genetic risk factors, the mechanisms and opportunities for community intervention. The programme is embedded within local, regional, national and international research programmes. 

Two other initiatives at Wits further enrich the environment to enhance capacity in the broad field of non-communicable diseases. These are the Molecular Biosciences Research Thrust aimed at addressing molecular aspects of disease that impact on the health of Africans, and the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience, which has chosen as its main focus non-communicable diseases exacerbated by lifestyle choices.

Specific objectives

  • Development of a cadre of skilled researchers from African countries who would have the capacity to engage in meaningful integrated research to address the burden of disease of specific non-communicable diseases
  • Empower trainees recruited from developing countries to obtain a global insight into the causes and impact of non-communicable diseases on health
  • Mobilise the scientific community to address the shifting burden of disease and disability specifically in non-communicable diseases (as aligned with the Fogarty goals)
  • Develop human capacity to meet the challenges by providing sustainable training for health scientists
  • Ensure a translational approach from knowledge generation and dissemination from the basic and clinical sciences to inform public health issues

How the programme works


This programme commenced in January 2011 and is anticipated to end in December 2015. Trainees are recruited in a staggered manner such that all traineeships are completed before the anticipated end date of the programme.

Each year, supervisors from different fields of expertise offer projects related to non-communicable diseases in African populations. Interested post-graduate students and post-docs from all over Africa are invited to apply for these projects. Successful applicants are chosen based on a range of criteria including academic merit, future aspirations and likelihood to remain in the field they will be trained MSc and PhD trainees are registered through Wits University as fulltime students and are expected to fulfil all requirements for their degrees according to the university rules and processes. All trainees are expected to complete their degrees and traineeship in the stipulated time-frame (two years for an MSc, four years for a PhD and two years for a Postdoc). In addition to requirements of a research degree, all trainees are required to attend cross-disciplinary short courses specific to this training programme. 

Full tuition fees are covered and trainees also receive a stipend.