GACD members fund landmark research to reduce impact of hypertension

11 June 2012

GACD logo

In June 2011 the UCL Institute for Global Health was selected to host the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) Secretariat, working to curb chronic diseases such as stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease and heart disease throughout the world.

Today the GACD has announced that four of its member organisations will fund research projects on hypertension (high blood pressure) prevention and control in 15 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The first coordinated funding effort among GACD members, this initiative includes 14 community-based research projects that will focus on implementing effective approaches to control high blood pressure.

The projects represent an investment of more than £14 million over three to five years and were announced by Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“This collaboration is significant in scope and critical to addressing the growing global epidemic of chronic noncommunicable diseases,” said Dr. Susan B. Shurin, GACD chair, and acting director of the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “By working together, the GACD funding organisations have an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate implementation strategies, leverage multiple research investments to provide evidence to guide policy, and ultimately stem the tide of deaths from chronic noncommunicable diseases.”

This collaboration is significant in scope and critical to addressing the growing global epidemic of chronic noncommunicable diseases.

Dr Susan B. Shurin, NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Hypertension is one of the most common chronic conditions worldwide, affecting an estimated 1 billion people. It is a major contributor to heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, and other conditions, and, according to the World Health Organization, contributes to more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor.

The GACD is the first collaboration of major international public research funding agencies to specifically address chronic noncommunicable diseases. The hypertension research initiative demonstrates the GACD’s commitment to help combat the global burden of chronic diseases by coordinating research on prevention and treatment. Noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases (primarily heart disease and stroke), chronic respiratory diseases, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer, account for around 60 percent of all deaths globally, 80 percent of which occur in LMICs.

Professor Sir John Tooke, UCL Vice Provost (Health), said: "I’m delighted that UCL is hosting the GACD  Secretariat.  Chronic diseases are now the major cause of mortality in developing as well as developed countries and the impact is most profound in low and middle income countries. The GACD Secretariat is coordinating the efforts of major biomedical research funders to address this truly global challenge.  UCL provides an ideal environment for the Secretariat, which will operate from the Faculty of Population Health Sciences as part of the Institute of Global Health. Our commitment to Grand Challenges, our interdisciplinary approach to help resolve complex problems and our strengths in relevant areas such as cardiometabolic medicine, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer equip us well to contribute to this important agenda."

The NIH is funding five research projects. Other GACD members supporting awards are Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (five projects), the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (three projects), and the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council (one project, with funding of an additional project anticipated in the coming weeks).

The GACD Secretariat is coordinating the efforts of major biomedical research funders to address this truly global challenge. UCL provides an ideal environment for the Secretariat, which will operate from the Faculty of Population Health Sciences as part of the Institute of Global Health.

Professor Sir John Tooke, UCL Vice Provost (Health)

Each research project is conducted through a partnership between investigators in a developed country institution and investigators and institutions in a LMIC. The initiative establishes a framework to examine various underlying mechanisms for hypertension prevention and control, such as family and institutional environments; health system delivery; and economic, social, and cultural factors.

Several projects evaluate the cost-effectiveness and efficacy of strategies based on successful approaches used in developed countries, tailored to local conditions to ensure that they are both culturally relevant and practical. With a focus on implementing effective interventions that can be used within LMICs and potentially expanded to similar environments, the projects provide a unique opportunity for researchers to share data and findings on a global level and to help further address global health disparities. Specifically, the research programs seek to:

  • Develop intervention strategies that involve multiple sectors. For example, in Peru, India, the Pacific Islands of Fiji and Samoa, and China, researchers will study the cost-effectiveness of population-based efforts to reduce salt intake. High salt intake is a well-established contributor to high blood pressure.
  • Assess the effectiveness of early interventions and detection, including preventive and control-based approaches. In rural India, Kenya, and Tanzania, researchers will use smartphone technology to improve blood pressure diagnosis and to monitor control by enhancing the efficiency and capacity of health care providers as well as by providing feedback to patients.
  • Build strong networks in Africa and elsewhere to strengthen responses to both communicable and noncommunicable diseases, leveraging the existing infrastructure developed in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic where possible.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of using community health workers in combination with other multifaceted programs in Argentina, Colombia, Malaysia, and several African countries.
  • Inform implementation and enable scale-up of larger programs (including related policies in health and other sectors) at local, regional, and national levels.
  • Reduce the number of deaths and the prevalence of diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, that develop as a consequence of high blood pressure.