THE WRC NATIONAL COVID-19 WATER AND SANITATION SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMME
Still in the of throes of confronting the current global health crisis, international effort is centered around curbing the transmission and spread of the coronavirus. This virus has emerged at the top of the list in the May 2020 Global burden of disease study, surpassing Malaria when reviewing global deaths caused by viruses. For countries where mitigation interventions such as social distancing have been uplifted, a great concern exists regarding the re-emergence of the virus, intensifying focus on effective surveillance systems that will prepare countries for future waves of the infection.
The Water Research Commission (WRC) on 20 May 2020 launched a special programme on the Surveillance of COVID-19 in wastewater. Conceptualised as the implementation vehicle for monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in communities, the primary aim of this programme is; to share knowledge, stimulate research and innovations on water quality, sanitation and health and support the initiatives of government in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
The limitations in the capacity of the global health system and the pace at which the Coronavirus is spreading have intensified the need to broaden surveillance strategies and to look at a wide array of approaches at tackling this pandemic. For the virus to be effectively constrained, rapid action is critical, and preparedness measures must outpace the pace of transmission. This is an almost impossible feat for developing countries that may not be able to afford mass-screening programmes to identify new infections.
The Team: COVID-19 Surveillance Programme
Water treatment systems play a pivotal role in public health protection
Although the coronavirus is predominantly believed to affect the respiratory route, viral RNA has also been detected in the faeces of infected individuals of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) infection. Global studies carried out on the coronavirus, postulate the high possibility of COVID-19 surviving in wastewater. Several research initiatives are being undertaken internationally to answer the same concern we all have regarding how long the virus can survive in the wastewater and sanitation environment and under what conditions.
If the virus does survive in wastewater and sanitation samples, understanding the level of risk posed to communities and implementing key strategies that involve an early warning alert of potential communal spread will be critical.
Water treatment systems play a pivotal role in public health protection and the analysis of wastewater treatment systems serve as an invaluable area of the study when investigating viral community infection and may be pivotal in the monitoring strategies used to curb environment transmissions. By continuously studying and monitoring the levels of the coronaviruses, it may be possible to determine the spread the COVID-19 infections.
A different focus for the developing world
While the developed world’s focus is that of safety of water services personnel and using this virus as a marker to determine the prevalence and health of their residents, for a developing country like South Africa understanding the fate of the virus in water is of significance as many of our communities in rural, dense and informal settlements are highly vulnerable. Intermittent water supply, environments with limited or no drainage infrastructure as well as inadequate and improper non-Sewered sanitation systems places these communities at increased exposure to risk from the virus. The COVID-19 surveillance data from wastewater and sanitation systems could provide South Africa with the requisite knowledge on viral prevalence and infectivity to manage the risk effectively. It will also play a valuable role in monitoring the progress of the disease and the efficacy of the interventions as part of the long-term surveillance.
WRC National COVID-19 Water and Sanitation Surveillance Programme
Despite some advances made in the medical and research fields, there is still a lot we do not know about the virus. What we have witnessed however is that containment of the virus has proven to be difficult in some areas, especially densely populated areas. The need to identify hotspots and the early stages of the disease to curb transmission is imperative. By determining geographical risk areas for infection and more specifically investigating epidemiological characteristics of COVID-19 infections, secondary attack rates and modes of transmission, we could predict second wave infections and mitigate the virus societal and medical impact.
The WRC intervention is comprised of three phases, the first being the establishment of the proof of concept of presence of COVID-19 in wastewater and sanitation samples, as well as establishing sample collection and testing protocols so that monitoring results can be reliable and compared. The second phase focuses on the establishment of a wider capacity of laboratories in South Africa and puts into operation more communities into surveillance. The third phase will enable the facilitation of the establishment of a national surveillance programme supported by hotspot mapping.
On 01 May 2020 the first phase of the COVID-19 surveillance programme kicked off with the establishment of the proof of concept. The WRC partnered with Waterlab, CSIR and University of Pretoria (UP) for the first phase of the programme to validate the applicability of the wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach for the surveillance of COVID-19 at community level. Key to this stage is sample testing, protocol improvement and sampling profile development.
Key outcomes of phase 1 will be guidelines which outline the testing protocol in detail
Phase 1 Updates
In this phase a wider network for pilot scale testing will be implemented across pre-defined communities in South Africa. The ultimate objective being to determine whether the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in untreated wastewater can be used as an early warning indicator of COVID-19 infections in communities. This will be done through collecting raw sewage data from pre-defined sampling sites and cross linking this data with the number of infected people in that particular area as provided in public health data.
Diagram 2. Phase 2 – process
Four provincial hotspots have been outlined for pilot-scale testing and these are Kwa-Zulu Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng. The sampling and testing protocols along with the validated methodology will be applied by the pre-contracted collaborators to yield pilot monitoring data.
In this phase the WRC and its partners will coordinate the implementation of the national programme across pre-defined work packages.
Key outcomes of phase 3 are:
- Novel water and sanitation-based approach for surveillance of COVID-19 spread in less developed communities
- Near-real time tracking of COVID-19 spread and resurgence in communities
- SP143_Methodology summary_SARS-CoV-2 compendium_web
The information on this site is accurate as per date of publishing. Periodic updates will be made to the content. Please contact the WRC project team with any queries or questions or post your question in the form below.
For general queries, please contact Mrs. Boitumelo Lekalakala on firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Stanley Liphadzi
Dr Stanley Liphadzi is the Group Executive Manager of Research & Development at the Water Research Commission (WRC) of South Africa. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Venda. Dr Liphadzi holds a PhD in Biological Engineering from Kansas State University, an MSc (Agronomy) from the University of Pretoria, and a Master of Business Leadership (MBL) from the University of South Africa. He has previously worked as a University Lecturer, Development Manager, Research Manager, and Executive Manager. Dr Liphadzi has authored/co-authored over 27 peer reviewed publications. He has also served on the boards of various organisations, including the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre and the South Africa National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Among other honours, Dr Liphadzi is a Fulbright Scholar.
Mr. Jay Bhagwan
Technical Support and Coordination
Jay Bhagwan is the Executive Manager of key strategic area of Water Use and Waste Management at the South African Water Research Commission, which focuses on the management of water and wastewater in the domestic, mining and industrial sectors. He has been instrumental in establishing a robust portfolio of research projects and innovations related to water supply and wastewater management. Mr Bhagwan holds a Masters Degree in Tropical Public Health Engineering from Leeds University, UK and a GDE in Municipal Engineering from WITS University. With his knowledge and experience in the implementation of water and sanitation projects, he has played and participated in the shaping of national water policy and legislation. He has served as the President of the Water Institute of Southern Africa, Chairperson of the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Water Advisory Committee, as well as several international advisory positions. Currently Mr Bhagwan is a Board member of the FSMA, Chair of the IWA NSS Specialist Group, and a Committee member of Coalition Against Typhoid. He continues to be actively involved in broad range of areas in the field of water supply, wastewater and sanitation.
Dr. Mamohloding Tlhagale
Stakeholder Engagement and Partnerships
Dr Mamohloding Tlhagale is the Head of International and Stakeholder Engagement at the Water Research Commission (WRC) of South Africa, with the broad responsibility of driving the WRC International and Stakeholder Engagement Strategies, ensuring integration and value added in the WRC business. Prior to joining the WRC, Dr Tlhagale was the Director for Strategic Partnerships at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) where her role was to establish strategic partnerships and leverage international resources to strengthen South Africa’s science and technology capacities. Before her career took a turn to international relations and strategic partnerships, Dr Tlhagale practiced as a Medical Scientist and lectured at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University. Dr Tlhagale’s expertise includes programme and project management, policy development and implementation, international relations and partnerships, stakeholder engagement and management of technology and innovation. Dr Tlhagale has served as an adjudicator for the South African Technology Top 100 (TT100) awards since 2014 and will from 2021 also be adjudicating the water prize for the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) awards. Both awards are aimed at recognising South African research and innovation excellence.
Dr. Chantal Ramcharan-Kotze
Business Development and Strategic Partnerships
Dr Chantal Ramcharan-Kotze is a Business Development and Strategic Partnerships Specialist with 19 years of experience in Business Management and Cross-Sector Collaboration. Her passion lies in translating science to impact and value co-creation, currently for the Water Research Commission. She has previous experience in the financial services, engineering and environmental sectors focusing on the developing economies. Dr Ramcharan-Kotze has been involved in public–private partnerships (PPPs), programme and platform establishment, strategy development and impact evaluation. She collaborates on academic and mainstream publications related to market development pathways and models, strategic value and cross-sector collaboration in relation to sustainable and inclusive futures.
Dr. Sudhir Pillay
Dr Sudhir Pillay received his PhD in Chemical Engineering in 2012 from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. As a postgraduate student, he won 3 scholar prizes from the Water Institute of Southern Africa and IWA-YWP Southern Africa for his research on gravity-driven membrane technologies, anaerobic systems and decentralised wastewater treatment. Dr Pillay is currently employed at the South African Water Research Commission where he is responsible for the strategic moulding of the non-sewered sanitation research, development and innovation (RDI) portfolio that has produced novel toilet systems, a scientific understanding of the thermodynamics associated with the drying of faecal sludges, and physical and biological-based resource recovery treatment options for faecal sludges. He is currently a member of the National Sanitation Task team, served on scientific committees for the IWA Peri-Urban Conference 2017 and IWA International Resource Recovery Conference 2017. He has also represented South Africa for ISO standards development for Non-Sewered Sanitation and has been part of IWA COVID-19 Task Force.
Dr. John Zvimba
Dr John Ngoni Zvimba is currently a Research Manager responsible for the sustainable integrated wastewater resource futures research portfolio at the Water Research Commission of South Africa. Prior to joining the WRC, Dr Zvimba was a Technical Specialist at Mintek and later became a Senior Researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). He has over 20 years of research experience, focusing on sustainable municipal, industrial and mining wastewater treatment and management. His experience covers research and development on technology and innovation for treatment, volarisation beneficiation of wastewater streams and sludges. He holds a PhD in Chemistry and has postdoctoral research experience in bioprocess engineering. Dr Zvimba has authored/co-authored over 20 peer reviewed publications, 1 book, 2 patents, several conference presentations, technical reports, and supervised/co-supervised postgraduate students (4 MSc and 1 PhD). He is currently a member of the Water Institute of Southern Africa and the International Water Association.
Dr. Shafick Adams
Data & Information
Dr Shafick Adams is the Executive Manager responsible for the Water Resources and Ecosystems key strategic area at the Water Research Commission. He also functions as a Research Manager, managing research projects related to groundwater, data tools and water resources protection. He holds a PhD and MSc (cum laude) from the University of the Western Cape where he lectured prior to his appointment to the Water Research Commission. Dr Adams is the past chair of the Groundwater Division of the Geological Society of South Africa and co-chair of the International Water Association’s Groundwater Restoration and Management Specialist Group. He is a registered Natural Scientist with SACNASP and a Fellow of the Geological Society of South Africa. He holds positions on various strategic committees, task teams and advisory panels. Some of his personal research interests are in water supply diversification and smart tools for water resources management. His passion is human capacity development through research, professional bodies and individual mentorships.
Dr. Nonhlanhla Kalebaila
Dr Nonhlanhla Kalebaila is a Research Manager at the Water Research Commission, leading and managing a portfolio of research on domestic water supply, drinking water treatment and water quality. Dr Kalebaila holds a PhD in Chemical Technology, specialising in water utilisation. Her areas of expertise lie around integrated water resources management, water treatment technology and quality, environmental science and awareness, waste management and resource recovery. Amidst the course of her professional career, she has also worked in the fields of environmental science, applied science, biochemistry, microbiology and nuclear technology. She has authored and co-authored several peer reviewed research papers, including original research papers, a book chapter and conference articles.
Dr. Eunice Ubomba-Jaswa
Dr Eunice Ubomba-Jaswa holds a PhD in Microbiology from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and an MSc in Medical Microbiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Her areas of expertise lie in microbiological water quality and how it ultimately affects public health. Dr Ubomba-Jaswa is currently a Research Manager: Water Resources Quality at the Water Research Commission (WRC) in South Africa where she manages a portfolio of projects that deal with the thematic areas of water pollution and human health, emerging contaminants (microbial and chemical), removal of contaminants as well as source water protection.
Dr. Valerie Naidoo
Business Development and Innovations
Dr Valerie Naidoo completed her Masters and PhD degrees at the University of KwaZulu Natal in the Pollution Research Group at the Department of Chemical Engineering, with experience in water and wastewater systems. She has 6 years’ industry experience at Unilever South Africa and Unilever AMET (Africa, Middle East and Turkey). She started at the Water Research Commission as a Research Manager managing the Wastewater and Industrial Wastewater portfolio. Currently, she is the Executive Manager of Business Development and Innovations at the Water Research Commission. Dr Naidoo is the former President and Chair of the Board of Water Institute of Southern Africa, a 3000-membership body for water sector professionals.
Ms. Nomakhosazana (Khosi) Jonas
Marketing and Communications
Nomakhosazana (Khosi) Jonas is a marketing professional with the Chartered Marketer South Africa (CMSA) designation, a sought-after professional designation for marketers from the Marketing Association of South Africa. She has worked on a wide and varied portfolio of brands between 2007 and 2014 Most of this work was in strategic brand management for specialist brand management agencies with both a local and international footprint. She has completed a Masters degree in Digital Business Management with WITS Business School and added a key skills set just in time, in an age where navigating the deep sea of information in a digital economy are pivotal to the success of any individual or business.
Mrs. Boitumelo Lekalakala
Boitumelo Lekalakala is a Group Assistant at the Water Research Commission in the Research and Development branch. A Communications graduate from the University of Pretoria (BA Hons), her expertise lies in excellent written communication and content development. She is a creative, an organiser and communicator of note.