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About Us

Who We Are

BT20 began in 1989 with pilot studies to test the feasibility of longitudinal follow up in South Africa’s largest and dense metropolitan area. During the 7 weeks in early 1990, all 3 273 women with singleton births in the Soweto-Johannesburg area were enrolled into a multidisciplinary cohort study of health and wellbeing of urban children in the newly emerging democracy in South Africa. The cohort is colloquially known as Mandela’s Children because they were enrolled just weeks after Nelson Mandela’s historic release from prison.

Bt20 is representative of children living in Johannesburg-Soweto over t ime children that grow up in homes of clapboard and zinc, a curtained area in an inner city high rise, a newly acquired home in Eldorado Park, or an elite townhouse in Hyde Park.

The overarching vision of Bt20 is to understand the holistic determination of child and adolescent health and development within Johannesburg-Soweto. This complex study continually impacts on current thinking about youth, and is committed to scientific research that makes a difference. The study documents and explores the socio-economic, socio-political, demographic and nutrition transition that is underway within South Africa and its impact on children and their families.

Antenatal data is available on 1 594 children whose mothers were recruited before pregnancy. Data has been collected from the cohort 22 times and the cohort is in their 24th year. Attrition to date is 30 per cent, and contact is being maintained with about 2 300 families. Sample loss is largely due to migration, some of which is circular movement between rural and urban households. Since age 14, we have collected data from the cohort twice a year and administer different questionnaires for both the Health Services and Routine departments. We have a number of services that we offer out cohort such as counselling sessions, Antenatal and postnatal care. The study has offices at the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto and at the Medical School of the University of the Witwatersrand.

  • Birth to Twenty has a strong focus on research quality and output, and the dissemination of study findings to international and South African academics and researchers, media, parents and educators, and policy leaders.
  • By late 2003 Bt20 study findings had been presented at over 250 conferences or workshops worldwide. Over 100 scientific documents have been published, and 150 media releases on Bt20 have appeared in newspapers, magazines, or on radio and television programmes.
  • A book on the first seven years of the Bt20 children’s lives by Oscar Barbarin and Linda Richter entitled "Mandela’s Children - growing up in Post Apartheid South Africa" was published in New York by Routledge
  • Bt20 has impacted government policy on the way routine data about children’s births are collected at hospitals and clinics, the mandatory school enrolment age, tobacco control legislation, and the reduction of environmental lead exposure linked to fuel emissions.