Operational Research Assistance Project – ORAP


Operational Research Assistance Project (ORAP)


Operational research (OR) is increasingly recognised as an essential component of health programmes. OR, defined as the “the search for knowledge on interventions, strategies, or tools that can enhance the quality, effectiveness, or coverage of programmes in which the research is being done” has special relevance in South Africa. This country spends 8.7% of its GDP on health (more than any other African country), but has poorer health outcomes. OR can provide insights into why we are failing to translate well developed policy and plans into improved health outcomes.

Study Aim:

The overall aim is to undertake OR as an integral component of health programmes in South Africa in order to contribute to improved quality and performance of the health system.

Collaborating Partners:

The Operational Research Assistance Project (ORAP) has been implemented in collaboration with the South African National Department of Health, the USAID Mission to South Africa, and the Union’s TREAT TB team.

ORAP Workshops, Building capacity

The Capacity Development and Research Process:

  • ORAP pairs health service providers with researchers from local academic and research organisations and develops their capacity to conduct operational research.
  • Participants select research topics based on national and local priorities.
  • During an 18-month experiential learning process, teams are guided through the process of developing ethically approved OR protocols; undertaking the research (with funding provided to support implementation); managing and analysing the data; disseminating the results locally and nationally and writing a manuscript for publication in a peer reviewed journal.
  • A senior DTTC staff member is assigned to mentor each pair throughout the process.


  • 103 health service providers and researchers from all 9 provinces in South Africa participated in ORAP.
  • 36 research studies were undertaken and 13 manuscripts were submitted and/or published to date, with others still in progress.
  • A manual “Operational Research to Improve Health Services – A Guide for Proposal Development” was developed and distributed at the 44th Union World Conference on Lung Health, in Paris, in 2013. The manual has been translated into Spanish for broader distribution internationally.
  • To date, findings from one study have contributed to that district adapting its approach to TB/HIV service

ORAP illustrates the benefit of academic institutions and health service providers working together to develop capacity and to address priority health issues that can lead to improved delivery of health services.

Principal investigator: Dr. Pren Naidoo: pnaidoo@icon.co.za