AIGHD undertakes key research as part of innovative diabetes and hypertension project

Diabetes and hypertension are now key global threats. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes rose to 422 million in 2014 and its prevalence is on the rise in low- and middle-income countries. Hypertension – high blood pressure – affects some 1.13 billion people.

With funding from the European Commission, a newly launched research consortium – in which AIGHD participates – is taking an innovative approach to address these non-communicable diseases. Led by the University of Heidelberg, WHO-PEN@Scale focuses on improving  diabetes and hypertension care in Eswatini and Southern Africa.

In Eswatini, the prevalence of diabetes and hypertension is high, yet many people remain undiagnosed. Like many other countries in Africa, Eswatini provides care for diabetes and hypertension only through physician-led teams in hospitals, putting enormous pressure on already overburdened facilities. In response, the country has begun to consider options for offering treatment for diabetes and hypertension in primary care.

Building on a recent pilot study, WHO-PEN@Scale seeks to improve diabetes and hypertension diagnosis and treatment by implementing and assessing ways of providing care outside hospitals. Developing new approaches to chronic care for diseases like diabetes is one of AIGHD’s research priorities.

Together with project partners, AIGHD’s multi-disciplinary team will work on two areas of research.

First, AIGHD staff will investigate patients’ perceptions of receiving care in the community instead of a tertiary facility and how health care providers deal with the shift in the organization of care.

“The burden of both of these diseases is significant and there’s a global push to deliver this type of care in communities instead of hospitals,” said prof. Ria Reis, AIGHD lead for the project. “Together with the University of Eswatini, AIGHD has the important task of investigating whether community-based care is acceptable to patients and can be implemented by health staff.”

Second, the team will analyze a number of factors – including quality of life, HIV and mental health – to determine if, combined, they exacerbate the severity of hypertension or diabetes and how the diseases interact. After identifying these interactions, we will conduct interviews with people to understand the role played by social and economic conditions throughout the life-course. As described AIGHD assoc. prof. Frank van Leth, is leading data analysis for this part of the project:

“By combining our expertise from different faculties at AIGHD including bio-medical and social science, we’re approaching this project in a truly multidisciplinary way to maximize the outcome.”

The project is expected to be completed by 2023.