There is an urgent need for longitudinal cohorts based in sub-Saharan Africa to address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases in the region, according to a new article published in PLoS Medicine. Michelle Holmes from the Channing Laboratory at Harvard Medical School and colleagues argue that public health in sub-Saharan Africa has historically focused on communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria and other infectious disease. However, non communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases, mental illnesses, trauma, cancer, and diabetes, are now major sources of morbidity and mortality in the region and are projected to overtake infectious diseases by 2030. The authors point out that prospective cohort studies can be used to study multiple complex diseases and risk factors simultaneously over an individual's lifetime, and that such studies have proved crucial in understanding the etiology, course, and outcome of NCDs in other populations. They have also informed the design of prevention programs. In addition, cohort studies provide an incomparable resource for the training of public health researchers. Because the payoff from cohort studies continues--and often grows--over time, they are a long-term investment in public health, and are relevant to the sub-Saharan region, say the authors.
Funding: This work was supported by the Dean's Office of the Harvard School of Public Health. The funder played no role in the decision to submit the article or in its preparation.
Competing Interests: Hans-Olov Adami is on the Editorial Board of PLoS Medicine.
Citation: Holmes MD, Dalal S, Volmink J, Adebamowo CA, Njelekela M, et al. (2010) Non-Communicable Diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case for Cohort Studies. PLoS Med 7(5): e1000244. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000244
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