Home > About RHRU > Who we are > History

The Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit (RHRU) is more than a research unit. It is an organisation that uses its research findings to influence policy and improve service delivery through training and programmatic interventions.
Research is undoubtedly the unit's bedrock, but not its sole purpose. Since its inception in 1994, RHRU has committed to grounding its work in data and using data to motivate for change. One of the most illustrative examples of this principle was the challenge of providing the new government in the mid-90s with reliable information regarding the effects of termination of pregnancy (TOP) on South African women. No baseline information was available at the time on which the government could base its nascent policies. By presenting research that stated one third of women admitted to hospital would fall ill or die from illegal abortions if the problem was not addressed, RHRU separated the issue from a human rights debate and reframed it as a public health argument. The findings were hard to ignore.
RHRU History

It was this lack of academic attention and appropriate research on a range of sexual and reproductive health issues and a worldwide shift towards sexual and reproductive health rights that motivated Professor Helen Rees to establish RHRU with funding from the Henry J Kaiser Foundation and The UK Department for International Development (DFID). Its emphasis was going to be on relevant research, academic in its rigour but appropriate to its context.
RHRU began with small studies focused on pending health policies of the country. These policies, however, needed to be implemented—a further challenge, as many old public health structures were inadequate vehicles for the implementation of these new policies.

Again, RHRU responded to a need. Through training health care providers and monitoring and evaluating this training, RHRU continues to provide technical support to various policy initiatives, including those on termination of pregnancy, contraception, sex workers, rape and, most recently, on the public health service rollout of antiretrovirals (ARVs) for people living with HIV.
RHRU does not only implement. It uniquely develops models for implementation. It builds capacity to collect information and that information helps the organisation look at key research questions and models of quality care, and improve on them. Furthermore, RHRU plays a role in the evaluation of new interventions due to be implemented, this has proven to be very effective in clinical trials and the evaluation is implementation based for the public health sector. This research is always guided by the requirements of the public health sector and therefore a valuable interaction to strengthen and influence health structures and implementation.

All the programmes summarised in this website are at some stage in a cycle of research—policy—implementation—training—monitoring and evaluation—research. All activities within this cycle contribute to the overall objectives of RHRU and its main purpose of helping to improve sexual & reproductive health and HIV in South Africa.