About the Centre for Rural Health

CRH was formed in 1987 by the National Association of Medical and Dental Activists (NAMDA), an organisation which was formed in reaction to the Medical and Dental Association. At that point CRH was called CHESS (The Centre for Health and Social Studies); CRH was funded by foreign donors and the centre existed primarily for research and advocacy. CHESS was linked to the Department of Paediatrics under Professor Jerry Coovadia, and based at the University of Natal.

In 1994 Professor Hugh Philpott, a leading expert in Maternal Health took over directorship. Other key changes at this time included access to local funding, a change in the focus of the organisation’s interventions to the district health system, and a growing commitment to taking up the challenge of rural health care. In 1998 Professor Steve Reid, a rural health activist of long standing and experience, took over the helm. In 2001 the name of the organisation changed to the Centre for Rural Health (CRH), expressing the organisation’s growing commitment to improving the health care offered to impoverished people living in rural and underserved areas.

2004 saw further change as a number of universities based in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal merged to form the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). CRH is now located within the School of Nursing and Public Health within the college of Health Sciences.

Professor Inge Petersen assumed the role of Director in 2016.

The ambit of the CRH has since expanded to encompass the UKZN strategic thrust areas and includes research and programmes in Health Systems Strengthening, Human Resources for Health and Health and Social Justice.

Professor Inge Petersen

Professor Inge Petersen is a Research Professor and Director of the Centre for Rural Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, as well as Visiting Professor at the Global Health Institute, University College London. She has extensive expertise in health systems strengthening for integrated primary health care and community health, with an emphasis on mental health care in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). She was the Principal Investigator for the Programme for Integrating Mental Health Care (PRIME) in South Africa, a 5 country research consortium (Ethiopia, India, Nepal, South Africa, Uganda) (Department for International Development (DFID) funded), focused on the development and scaling up of integrated packages of mental health care for priority disorders; as well as a Principal Investigator of CoBALT (Comorbid Affective Disorders, AIDS/HIV, and Long Term Health); a pragmatic cluster randomized control trial investigating the health impact of integrated depression care on patients on anti-retroviral treatment in South Africa funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This body of work is now being scaled up in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province in collaboration with the KZN Department of Health in South Africa and evaluated by the Southern African Research Consortium for Mental Health Integration (SMhINT) funded by the NIMH U19 funding mechanism - which includes South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania - and where my role is the overall Hub lead Principal Investigator. Prof Petersen is also Principal Investigator of a newly funded award from the UK MRC on strengthening the community sub-system for people-centred care in South Africa, and a co-Principal Investigator for ENHANCE (Evidence led co-created health systems strengthening interventions for multiple long-term conditions (MLTC-M) in two provinces in South Africa funded by the UK NIHR. Professor Petersen has an H index of 41 (Scopus), and has published over 165 peer reviewed journal publications, as well as co- edited and co-authored two books and have published 23 book chapters. Peer reviewed Journal Articles can be accessed through Orcid ID 0000-0002-3573-4229.

Our focus areas include:


Focusing on innovation and service delivery improvement within resource constraints and extending to improving governance, participation and universal access.


Focusing on pre-service health professions education and in-service workforce preparedness, including the necessary organizational support and human resource management to meet the needs of the under-served, and changing demands placed on the health care system by the changing disease profile towards chronic care.


Extending the focus to social determinants of health such as poverty, hunger and food security, illiteracy, social equity and development, migration and eco-health.

Our Vision and Mission

To be at the forefront of innovative knowledge production and human capital development that promotes learning health systems in resource-scarce contexts.