AUTHeR: Community-based research with a difference
The research activities of the Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research (AUTHeR) on the North-West University’s (NWU’s) campus in Potchefstroom are focused on bio-psychosocial health and specifically on preventing illness, maintaining and promoting health and facilitating quality health systems.
AUTHeR supports the World Health Organisation's definition of health. This definition states that optimal health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
The transdisciplinary health research team takes a holistic approach to problems and opportunities specific to Africa and developing countries, where health is affected by HIV/Aids and rapid urbanisation, and where the empowerment of people and the development of human capital is a high priority. One of AUTHeR’s several community projects is the WIN project, an umbrella project consisting of 13 initiatives aimed at improving rural health and well-being.
The AUTHeR research unit’s mission is to play a significant role in addressing complex health challenges, not only in Southern Africa but also internationally. Prof Petra Bester, director, says they believe tackling health challenges necessitates a holistic approach. “We see people in their holistic context: body, mind and soul and within society.”
An ideal partner for schools and faculties
She says this holistic outlook is exactly why AUTHeR is an ideal partner for all the NWU’s faculties and schools when they embark on projects to better the lives of communities. Its transdisciplinary approach enables community members and researchers from different disciplines to become active partners in promoting health and well-being.
“Making a difference cannot be done in isolation. We build trusting relationships with communities, working closely with them to assess their needs and discover the day-to-day health challenges they face,” says Müller Spies, project manager.
Apart from AUTHeR’s considerable research skills, they also have distinctive strengths in community engagement and teaching-learning. These skills and strengths are available to assist faculties and research entities wishing to make a meaningful impact through community engagement.
“Faculties know that community engagement must happen but they don’t always know how to structure it and it is here where AUTHeR can play a valuable role,” says Dr Nicole Claasen, lecturer.
Touching on real-life problems
“Funding applications locally and internationally require more and more different disciplines working together, touching on real-life problems that are very complex,” explains Nicole.
“We as AUTHeR have expert knowledge and a health and well-being perspective on how to create multi- and transdisciplinary projects and we are open for collaboration with any faculty.”
Since November 2016, Prof Petra Bester has headed a drive by the unit to link needs within the health systems in the North West Province with research efforts within the NWU. This approach reflects the reality that health systems are complex and that dynamic organisations have multiple stakeholders. Thus, collaborative innovation enables a health system to receive ideas and solutions from various partners.
Prof Petra Bester