14 November 2010

African PaCT ~ Harvard's Public Health Project

Harvard's School of Public Health and African colleagues are running PaCT -- Partnership for Cohort Research and Training...
"...studies that include 500,000 participants across Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa. [...] Cohort studies enroll tens of thousands of people who are asked questions about what they eat, how much they exercise and smoke, and their family and reproductive histories. These are correlated with information from biological samples. However, Africa, home to nearly one billion people, has [until now, had] no large cohort studies similar to those in the US and Europe that look at chronic diseases. [...] They will make innovative use of technology to keep costs down. For example, with cell phones -- widely used across all of Africa -- they can retrieve data and conduct follow-up surveys with participants. They plan to develop comprehensive biobank to enable cutting edge molecular studies. The large number of participants will allow the study of gene and environment interactions. And, as has been effectively demonstrated with studies here in the United States, PaCT will provide a fertile training ground in innovative research and create viable career paths for African scientists. Furthermore, PaCT will allow for collaboration between African countries, as well as partnerships with more developed countries."
To emphasize how important this is, just this past week, the head of the Institute of Medicine Harvey Fineberg (former Provost and Dean of Public Health at Harvard) spoke about the growing problem of chronic disease in developing nations. In his talk, The Underappreciated Burden: Chronic Illness in the Developing World, he noted that...
"...chronic diseases have always been present in developing nations, but the public’s attention has focused on the threat from infectious diseases such as AIDS. While infectious diseases remain a problem, that doesn’t diminish the concern over chronic diseases. Further straining scarce health care resources is the new push to reduce the burden of ailments referred to as neglected tropical diseases, mainly parasitic ones such as Chagas disease, which are unfamiliar to people in industrialized nations but which affect as many as a billion people."

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