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Welcome to Wits RHI

Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation
Tackling Africa’s
Health Challenges
through science and innovation





Breathing New Life into Hillbrow

Think of Hillbrow and you’re more likely to think of a deprived inner city area characterised by poverty, crime and disadvantage. But the Hillbrow Health Precinct (HHP) is changing the perception of Hillbrow and the reality. Breathing new life into the inner city, the HHP is an internationally recognised focal point for innovation in research and training in the field of health care and community development.

Firmly rooted in the community, the precinct is gradually reversing the decline that has characterised Hillbrow in the last decade, with the restoration of several important heritage buildings to renewed glory as centres of medical excellence. A unique partnership between the City of Johannesburg, the Gauteng Department of Health and the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute, the HHP is a visionary, world-first health precinct addressing HIV and related diseases poverty and urban renewal in Johannesburg’s inner city.

Standing at the intersection of urban regeneration and community based health care, and demonstrating the best use of modern technology in both spheres, the Hillbrow Health Precinct is a beacon of inspiration in the urban development landscape and a model of co-operation that is sure to see others follow in its footsteps.

The Past

The precinct contains one of the finest collections of historic buildings in Johannesburg. It includes buildings to the west of Hospital Street such as the South African Institute for Medical Research building, designed by Herbert Baker and Frank Fleming in 1913, said to be based on Christopher Wren’s designs in Greenwich, London. Close by is the old Wits Medical School designed by A and W Reid and Delbridge in 1920. These buildings represent the work of some of South Africa’s most renowned architects, including Gordon Leith, Herbert Baker and Wilhelm Pabst, attracting the attention of visitors from all over the world.

A Window on Health Care Through the Years

The value of the buildings lies not only in the historic style of their design but also in what they can teach us about the development of health care and technology that has made our present high-tech medicine possible. When the Johannesburg General Hospital was at its peak, it represented cutting-edge medical care and was in the same league as other well-known hospitals around the globe. The precinct has an historical association with countless medical students, doctors and nurses who learned their profession at this teaching hospital.

The same applies to the thousands of Johannesburg residents who received medical treatment there over a period of nearly 100 years.

The Present

The site is a dense conglomeration of buildings where the Hillbrow Community Health Centre currently provides a fully functioning hospital service. Wits RHI has located its head office in the renovated Hugh Solomon Building in Klein Street since 2006, following renovations to the buildings which were done by the Johannesburg Development Agency in 2004. Also within the precinct are several vital health services that provide a focal point for community mobilisation.

The Community Care Centre provides psychosocial care and support to individuals and families infected and affected by HIV. Ward 21 is the world’s largest non-hospital antiretroviral treatment site, serving over 4000 patients a month with life-saving antiretroviral therapy.

The most recent addition is the Shandukani Maternal and Child Health Centre. Shandukani is a Venda word mean meaning ‘change’ or ‘asking for change’, and the Shandukani project is a flagship public/private partnership that represents support for community clinics, community health programmes and HIV awareness in a truly integrated manner. The facility will become a centre of excellence for maternal and child health, for the training of health care providers, community workers and researchers, and will be a focal point for conducting world-class research on a range of health-related topics of national and regional relevance, including HIV; TB; maternal and child health; infectious diseases; reproductive health; and social science.


The Shandukani project encapsulates the objectives of the Hillbrow Health Precinct which aims to strengthen the delivery of health and social services through the regeneration of disused and deteriorated building stock, thereby increasing the asset value of Department of Health properties.

The Future

The development of the precinct has been designed to create an integrated, safe, secure and functional area that will:


  • Be the preferred location for primary healthcare providers
  • Consolidate the research base and operational connections among stakeholders
  • Enhance existing residential accommodation
  • Create world-class education and training facilities



An Urban Design Framework for the northern portion of the precinct has been generated with the professional assistance of the University of the Witwatersrand Campus Development and Planning Unit with a plan for a fully integrated campus-like precinct. Future plans will see the precinct developed and upgraded in order to facilitate improvements in health service delivery and practice.


Wits University has identified five ‘urban foyers’ where its academic and student offering can be delivered to the community it serves. The Hillbrow Health Precinct has been selected to be one of these foyers.



Hillbrow Health Precinct in Action – The Present

1. Wits RHI R&T Centre 

The Research & Training (R&T) Centre is a specialist research site providing a purpose-built environment for the conduct of clinical and other research trials. The site has the capacity to recruit and retain hundreds of study participants on a monthly basis and includes a research pharmacy and laboratory on the premises. The laboratory boasts state-of-the-art equipment, backup generators to protect against power outages, and also serves as a training facility for Wits RHI staff studying towards further degrees.

2. Esselen Street Clinic 

The City of Johannesburg’s Esselen Street Clinic handles tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, family planning and HIV counselling and testing. The clinic, a partnership between the City and Wits RHI, sees up to 350 people daily and plans to increase this to up to 1,000. Wits RHI also runs a number of special clinics for vulnerable and marginalised groups such as sex workers and youth within the Esselen Street Clinic.

3. Ward 21 

Part of the Hillbrow Community Health Centre, Ward 21, as it is known locally, is the largest non-hospital antiretroviral therapy initiation site in the world, seeing over 4000 patients every month. For many people, a visit to Ward 21 is the first step on the way to a stronger and healthier life after being diagnosed with HIV. Once stable on ART, patients are down-referred to a local clinic for ongoing treatment, care and support.

4. Wits RHI Head Office 

The Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute has its headquarters in the Hillbrow Health Precinct. Wits RHI is one of the largest programme implementation, research and training units of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, leading the way in the field of HIV, sexual & reproductive health and related conditions. The work of the Wits RHI is driven by a number of technical and research programmes:

Health Programmes support the South African public sector to improve care and access to health services, in the context of the HIV epidemic, with work conducted at national, provincial, district and sub-district levels.

Research Programmes aim to create an understanding of the social and biological contexts and determinants of risk for sexual and reproductive health, HIV and related conditions in order to identify interventions to prevent and ameliorate morbidity, with the aim of positively influencing health policy and practice.

Community Programmes work towards increased community engagement in health and social care, research, advocacy, health promotion and health literacy to ensure an enabling and supportive environment in which communities benefit.

·        Research Teaching Programmes have been developed within the University of the Witwatersrand in support of Masters and PhD students, and in partnership with international academic institutions from Africa and the developed world.

·         Training Department supports the Department of Health and other key partners through training initiatives. 

5. Lefelo la Tlhokomelo Community Care Centre 

The Lefelo la Tlhokomelo Community Care Centre is a free walk-in service centre that caters for HIV-positive people and their families and the broader community giving general support, counselling, wellness support, information, advice and referral. The Centre is a partnership involving a large number of NGOs and CBOs who work together to provide a wide range of services to a deprived inner city community.

6. Shandukani Centre for Maternal & Child Health 

A public/private partnership between the Gauteng Department of Health, Vodacom Foundation, Altech, Altron and Wits RHI, the Shandukani Centre provides expert medical care to pregnant women and children infected with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.


An investment of 28 million rand by the private sector has resulted in the creation of a turnkey facility jointly managed by the Gauteng Department of Health and WRHI.

Shandukani is a Venda word meaning ‘change’ and is an appropriate name for a facility that represents multiple aspects of positive change: the value of public/private partnerships; the transformation of a derelict building with heritage status into a thoroughly modern facility that nonetheless preserves its historical stature; and the positive impact on change we can all have.


Shandukani is a flagship public/private partnership project that represents support for community clinics, community health programmes and HIV/AIDS awareness in a truly integrated manner.

7. Hillbrow Community Health Centre 

The Hillbrow Community Health Centre is a provincial secondary-level health care facility providing 24-hour casualty services and minor theatre, a polyclinic and outpatient services, psychology and dental care.

8. Medico Legal Facility

Located within the HCHC, this provides important services to support SAPS and victims of domestic and sexual abuse.



Development Potential – the Future


Together with the University of the Witwatersrand’s Campus Development and Planning Department, an Urban Design Precinct Plan dealing with the northern area has been generated. This will ensure that coherent and integrated development takes place within the precinct relating to movement, signage, safety, street furniture, landscaping and way-finding. This work will be extended across the entire precinct to provide development parameters for any new, refurbished and/or existing facilities.



  • Wits RHI is seeking User Agreements with the property owners to expand our footprint within the precinct and thus provide further health and medical support to all beneficiaries. The activation of currently derelict and mothballed heritage status buildings will help to protect the asset value of the properties as well as enhance urban management initiatives by populating the wider area.

  • Residential buildings both within and surrounding the precinct will be made available for regeneration once certain legal obstacles are removed and will offer a much needed complementary activity within the precinct.

  • Once the correct mix of building use has been established, there will be scope for a retail outlet in the form of a coffee shop, much anticipated by staff working in the precinct.

  • Wits RHI has joined the Ekhaya Neighbourhood City Improvement District initiative, established by property owners to organise and champion a well-managed neighbourhood environment adjacent to the Hillbrow Health Precinct that encourages and sustains the economic and social wellbeing of its residents, workers and visitors. Its aims are twofold: to establish an investment node that will attract and protect the financial investment of home-owners, larger property owners, small and large businesses and financial institutions; and an investment node that will attract and protect the social investment of private and public investors in the form of schools, clinics, neighbourhood leisure facilities, parks, libraries and religious organisations. Continued involvement with this innovative initiative will lead to better urban management and service delivery outcomes, further public environment upgrades and better recreation facilities; and it will create a facilitative environment for further community outreach programmes.​

View more information about the Hillbrow Health Precinct



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