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

Inge Petersen, PhD, has published 135 peer review publications, two books and over 20 book chapters, and supervised 42 PhD and Masters completed dissertations.
She has extensive experience in integrated mental health care in low- and middle income countries (LMICs), having played leadership roles in a number of international multi-country research consortia concerned with this global mental health challenge, as well as having been principal investigator on two large cluster randomized control trials on this topic.
Professor Petersen is currently leading a National Institute of Health (NIH) U19 HUB funded project – the Southern Africa Integrated Mental Health (SMhINT) research consortium – that is evaluating the real-world scale up of an evidence-based model of integrated primary mental health care for common mental disorders using implementation science in one district in KwaZulu-Natal as a case study. This project also has a strong capacity building component which is being used to scale-up components of this model to the rest of the province in collaboration with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health as well as provide capacity building in integrated mental health care to Mozambique and Tanzania. In addition, she is centrally involved on the NIHR funded Sub-Saharan Africa Health Systems Strengthening Unit (ASSET) at Kings College London, where she is co-PI for the country level South African study focused on person centred TB/mental health care – recently expanded to include COVID-19, as well as being the cross-country non-technical skills lead. In addition to this body of work on integrated primary mental health care, Professor Petersen also has expertise in mental health promotion and prevention, having coauthored and edited two international texts on this topic as well as leading the population and community platform chapter for the Mental, Neurological and Substance Abuse (MNS) volume of the 3rd edition of Disease Control Priorities (DCP3).

Professor Refiloe Masekele

Professor Refiloe Masekela is a Pediatric Pulmonologist and current Head of Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of KwaZulu Natal. She is also an Honorary Visiting Professor in the Centre for Genomics and Child Health at the Queen Mary University London, UK. She obtained her undergraduate medical degree at Witwatersrand University, and completed her specialist Paediatrics training at the University of Pretoria. She then completed her fellowship in Paediatric Pulmonology at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium and the University of Pretoria. She has experience in research over the past 13 years and is an NRF (C3) rated researcher having published over 60 publication in peer-reviewed journals and has co-authored 4 book chapters on paediatrics respiratory diseases. Professor Masekela is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in her field having held various leadership positions in local and international thoracic societies. Her research scientific career has focused on lung diseases in children. She has recently been appointed by the Minister of Health to the National Perinatal Mortality and Morbidity Committee.
She is the Vice-chairperson on the Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS). As the Vice President of the Pan African Thoracic Society, part of the mission is to highlight issues around lung health in Africa and to guide policy in various countries in the continent. Prof Masekela is the current Director of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) MECOR Africa program. The MECOR program is a research methodology program run by the Pan African Thoracic Society, which provides training on operational and clinical lung research for trainees from all over Africa and has trained over 450 trainees from over 20 countries. She is also a group member of the ATS Pediatric Global Health Group. Through PATS MECOR, she developed the African Women in Research Mentorship Program. She has an interest in asthma and allergies in children. She is a local principal investigator for an NIHR £2 million funded multicentre study Asthma in Children in Africa (ACACIA) which will study 3000 children in Durban in collaboration with Professor J Grigg (UK Principal investigator) at the Queen Mary University London. She has been invited to international meetings to present at symposia/plenary session on asthma in Africa. She is currently the PI of a project collecting data for inclusion in the Global Asthma Network in 3000 children on the prevalence asthma and allergies in South Africa. She has co-authored a chapter in the Global Asthma Report in 2018. She is also a Principal author for the South African Paediatric Asthma Guidelines, published 2018. She is a past president and executive member of the National Asthma Education Program, an advocacy group which disseminates educational training and community education on asthma.
Prof Masekela's other research focus is in lung physiological testing, particularly lung function testing in children and the determination of normative lung reference equations in African children and adults. She is the Principal investigator of the Paediatric and Adult African Spirometry (PAAS Study) which is a collaborative project whose aim is to develop lung reference equations for Africans. The first publication PAAS1 on pan-African data African specific reference equations has been published and gives guidance as to which reference equations to use in African populations and a prospective study (PAASII) has been published and has provided guidance of appropriate reference equations for spirometry in various ethnic groups in South Africa. She is also the African representative of the European Respiratory Society Global Lung Initiative (GLI) Network of Clinical Research Collaboration committee. She also holds the position of Director of Spirometry for the Pan African Thoracic Society. She was the principal author of a publication on spirometry testing methodology in South African children, a reference guide used in many African countries.
As the Head of Department of Paediatrics at UKZN over the past 5 years, she has mentored and graduated 15 Masters/MMedSci students. She is passionate about education and has obtained over R14 million in grants to support training in paediatric and Paediatric-sub specialities for both South African and African students via the African Paediatric Fellowship Program. She is also the secretary of the College of Paediatricians of South Afric


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.