Research into health, population and social transitions in rural South Africa: data and methods of the Agincourt Health and Demographic Surveillance System

Scand J Public Health Suppl. 2007 Aug:69:8-20. doi: 10.1080/14034950701505031.


Rationale for study: Vital registration is generally lacking in infrastructurally weak areas where health and development problems are most pressing. Health and demographic surveillance is a response to the lack of a valid information base that can provide high-quality longitudinal data on population dynamics, health, and social change to inform policy and practice.

Design and measurement procedures: Continuous demographic monitoring of an entire geographically defined population involves a multi-round, prospective community study, with annual recording of all vital events (births, deaths, migrations). Status observations and special modules add value to particular research areas. A verbal autopsy is conducted on every death to determine its probable cause. A geographic surveillance system supports spatial analyses, and strengthens field management.

Population and sample size considerations: Health and demographic surveillance covers the Agincourt sub-district population, sited in rural north-eastern South Africa, of some 70,000 people (nearly a third are Mozambican immigrants) in 21 villages and 11,700 households. Data enumerated are consistent or more detailed when compared with national sources; strategies to improve incomplete data, such as counts of perinatal deaths, have been introduced with positive effect. Basic characteristics: A major health and demographic transition was documented over a 12-year period with marked changes in population structure, escalating mortality, declining fertility, and high levels of temporary migration increasing particularly amongst women. A dual burden of infectious and non-communicable disease exists against a background of dramatically progressing HIV/AIDS.

Potential and research questions: Health and demographic surveillance sites - fundamental to the INDEPTH Network - generate research questions and hypotheses from empirical data, highlight health, social and population priorities, provide cost-effective support for diverse study designs, and track population change and the impact of interventions over time.[image omitted].

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Demography*
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Population Dynamics
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Research
  • Rural Health* / statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • South Africa / epidemiology