Chronic diseases (NCDs) are a global health epidemic and almost 80% of them occur in low- and middle-income countries. While the WHO have developed policies to combat chronic diseases, research shows that, in certain regions, they are not having the desired effect, leaving fragile health systems increasingly overwhelmed. In order to combat this, thanks to a Horizon Europe grant, Amsterdam UMC is set to lead a global consortium with the aim of developing interventions that work in practice.
Consortium leader and Professor of Global Migration, Ethnicity and Health at Amsterdam UMC, Charles Agyemang notes that, "We see particularly in sub-Saharan Africa that the rates of chronic diseases are rapidly rising that, crucially, the WHO measures are not working as well as they need to. Partly because most of the data for these interventions were gathered in high-income countries. This means that the development of a new arsenal of interventions is essential.”
With an eye on developing targeted interventions that will make the most difference, the consortium will aim their sights on those aged between 10 and 24. Partly due to the fact that this group receives less attention in the current WHO policies and, crucially, also because of the role that this period of live plays in behavioural development. "Chronic diseases are often caused by behaviours that begin early in life including eating unhealthily, not exercising enough, so for that reason we're going to target precisely this group," adds Agyemang
The consortium consists of partners in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom as well as African partner universities and research institutions in both Kenya and Ghana. The goal is to develop interventions that work in three settings: secondary schools, family/faith-based settings and on social media.
Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Ghana, Amos Laar, who is a co-investigator notes that “combating a very complex epidemic such as NCDs will require multi-component intervention concurrently targeting its multiple risk factors, involving multiple live stages, delivered via multiple platforms, and meaningfully and sufficiently engaging with multiple stakeholders. That is exactly what project seeks to do”.
Across sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated, by the World Bank, that almost 50% of children are not in school and therefore it is necessary for interventions to look beyond the classroom or the dining hall. Agyemang believes that this multi-faceted approach "will increase the motivation of young people to eat healthier and be more physically active" and crucially "will increase the chance of lasting changes''
Something which, Dr Gershim Asiki, a co-investigator and Head of NCDs Unit in the African Population Health Research Centre in Kenya also emphasises: ‘’the project embraces principles of co-design throughout the proposal development and implementation and a highly consultative process that will promote uptake and sustainability of the program.”