South Africa

The University of Virgina & University of Venda collaboration has evolved to one of the most inclusive, diverse, interdisciplinary collaborations on Grounds. 


Partner Details

Location: Limpopo Province

Partner University: University of Venda

Program Time Frames: 2-8 weeks on average

Length of Time as a Partner: since 2005

Envisioned Projects: Continued research involving MadiDrop, MalED, WHIL and CHIL, along with other research of local interest

Research Goals: Our aim is to attract scholars from diverse disciplines and train them for academic and applied research careers that will lead the next generation to a better understanding of and ultimately a reduction in global disparities of health and wellbeing. These issues and their intersections are complex, cutting across traditional fields of medicine, natural, applied, and social sciences, and humanities and we look to include scholars with diverse research backgrounds.

Research Activites in South Africa:


  • PureMadi (Madi is Water in Tshvenda language) focuses on low-resource technology to provide cleaner water to communities.  The primary collaborative partner is the Mukoneni Pottery Collective in Ha-Mashamba.
  • Point-of-Use Water Treatment
    • Sustainable approach to improve water and health at the household level
    • HIV-positive cohort
    • Ceramic Water Filters Coated with Silver NanoParticles
    • Filter factory creation


  • Studies the relations between malnutrition and enteric disease
  • Track 200 children from birth to age 2
  • Tshapasha and Tshibvumo one of eight global study sites

WHIL- Water & Health in Limpopo

  • The Water and Health in Limpopo (WHIL) Innovations fellowship program provides cross-disciplinary training in global health innovation to twelve post-doctoral fellows. The program focuses on the closely related issues of poor access to water and sanitation in rural areas of Southern Africa and unacceptably high rates of morbidity and mortality associated with early childhood diarrhea. 
  • The collaboration is supported by a multi-disciplinary group of faculty from both institutions with particular expertise in enteric disease, rural water purification strategies, rural nursing, community planning, agent-based modeling, child development, cross-cultural ethnography, and South African law related to water and human rights. 

CHIL - Community Health in Limpopo

The CHIL Projects are community health-focused projects conducted in Limpopo by various faculty-student teams over the past 5 years.  These teams have collaborated with staff at the Ministry of Health and the University of Venda, both in Thohoyandou, Limpopo.

Program History

History of CHIL:

Dr. Jim Plews-Ogan initiated CHIL by mentoring medical, nursing, and undergraduate students in training community health workers in village clinics about diabetes and hypertension management.  Dr. Cathy Campbell continued this work with nursing students, developing and providing training in a curriculum addressing diabetes and hypertension.  Dr. Rebecca Dillingham and Dr. Pascal Bessong of the University of Venda are conducting a prospective cohort study with people living with HIV to determine their use of Western and traditional medicines to manage HIV.  Dr. Karen Ingersoll began the Motivational Interviewing (MI) project in 2014 by training community health workers (CHWs) and nurses in MI skills at the request of the health district.  In 2015, she and a team of medical and undergraduate students (from UVA) and nursing students (from the University of Venda) conducted a 5-week research project to determine what level of MI skills CHWs could attain with training and field-based coaching.  They taught MI skills to CHWs in the community clinics in Thohoyandou and Tiyani.  After the training, they observed CHWs as they delivered home-based care in villages.  The student teams (American and South African student pairs for each CHW) observed and coded MI skills during these visits.  Data showed that CHWs improved MI skills over time with coaching in the field.  In 2016, Dr. Ingersoll, a medical student from UVA, and the nursing students from the University of Venda jointly taught professional nurses and nursing students to use MI in patient care.  They trained standardized patients and conducted a pre-post training study of nurses’ MI skills; these data are being analyzed now to determine the level of skill attained by nurses after training.  Currently, the nursing faculty at the University of Venda is planning a new course on MI for the nursing curriculum.

Future of CHIL:

Dr. Ingersoll will initiate a new community health research study of alcohol-related sexual risks, and the risk of alcohol-exposed pregnancy in Limpopo in Summer 2017.  Students will learn how to interview people about sensitive topics such as sexual behaviors, intimate partner violence, alcohol use, sexual assault, HIV, and unintended pregnancy, and to modify approaches to fit local cultures.  Individual interviews, focus groups, and discussion groups with stakeholders including student leaders, faculty, village leaders, and traditional healers will inform the development of a culturally-competent survey instrument that can be translated and used for larger scale administration in village and urban settings in Limpopo.  Dr. Campbell will initiate a new study of palliative care interventions used by professional nurses and CHWs in the rural areas in Summer 2017.  This study will also involve individual and focus group interviews and collection of digital narratives that tell the story of good palliative care provided at the end of life.  Dr. Dillingham and Dr. Bessong are continuing the prospective cohort study of people living with HIV to determine how usage of Western vs. traditional medications influence biomarkers of health outcome.  

About Limpopo Province

The University of Venda is located in Thohoyandou, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Limpopo is the northernmost province in South Africa and is roughly the size of Pennsylvania.  Limpopo Province is made up of five Municipalities: Vhembe District, Capricorn District, Mopani District, Sekhukhune District, and Waterberg District. Much of the work conducted by WHIL occurs in the Venda region. In 1962, the South African Government “created” Venda as a bantustan, or homeland, for the Venda-speaking people. Its capital was Thohoyandou and it was the smallest of all the homelands. The homelands were supposedly created to “allow “Black South Africans to govern themselves and to preserve their culture, but in reality they denied their residents any opportunity to participate in South African politics. As a direct result to apartheid, high levels of illiteracy and poverty, including poor service to the people in particular with respect to water, electricity and sanitation supply characterise the entire province. These conditions significantly affect the local population’s general health and wellness. 


Current Projects

Students will be working on an ongoing community-based randomized controlled trial in a local community. The study is designed to test the effectiveness of two point-of-use water treatment technologies to improve clean drinking water access, reduce enteropathogen burden, and improve child growth among children in Limpopo, South Africa. 

The purpose of this study is to describe the cultural context of death and dying in SA and to describe the palliative care practices and self-reported competencies in these practices by Community Health Workers (CHWS) and Professional Nurses in the Vhembe District in Limpopo Province, South Africa. 

This new project will address a critical issue affecting the health of university students in South Africa: alcohol-related sexual risk.  Statistics suggest that the most at-risk population in South Africa are those between the ages of 18-29. In rural provinces like Limpopo in South Africa, traditional gender roles typically expect girls and women to not have sex and to not drink, but these traditions are likely more relaxed in the university setting.  

Map of South Africa


The University of Venda is located in Thohoyandou, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Limpopo is the northernmost province in South Africa and is roughly the size of Pennsylvania.