Discovery Fund contributes R2m for vital research into non-communicable diseases

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South Africa’s biggest private healthcare funder has announced a R2 million donation to the Chronic Disease Initiative Africa (CDIA) for vital research into non-communicable diseases in South Africa.

The Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa (CDIA) has welcomed a R2 million investment by South Africa’s largest healthcare funder, Discovery, for research into non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South Africa.

“The CDIA is delighted to receive this significant donation. It allows us to expand vital research into NCDs, which have emerged as major threats to health in South Africa, placing an even heavier burden on our already strained health services,” says CDIA Director Professor Naomi Levitt.

Non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers currently contribute to 30% of deaths in South Africa. About 6.3 million South Africans have high blood pressure and three million have type 2 diabetes. In addition, wider access to antiretroviral therapy has transformed HIV/AIDS into a chronic disease and people are now living long enough to be at risk for NCD. The very high obesity rates, particularly among women, are also expected to increase the rates of hypertension and diabetes.

“It is critical that we pay attention to these statistics now. Nearly half of the deaths caused by cardiovascular disease in South Africa occur before the age of 65 years, four times the rate in the USA. Many of these premature deaths could be prevented,” says Levitt

In the letter confirming the donation, the Discovery Fund trustees stated: “This grant is a contribution towards core funding for the directorate of the CDIA, which will enable CDIA’s research network to continue to make a vital contribution to NCD-related research and advocacy work in South Africa.”

The CDIA has conducted wide ranging research, especially among poor communities in the Western Cape, specifically on smoking, nutrition and primary health care and is actively involved with the national Department of Health in contributing to NCD policy development in SA.

The CDIA has members from several universities in South Africa, as well as the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and Harvard University (HU), USA. In 2012, the membership expanded to include members from Malawi, Kenya, and Botswana. Negotiations are in place to expand the membership to other universities.

Some of the work the CDIA has been involved with includes developing an assessment tool for the early identification of people at risk of cardiovascular disease, a group diabetes education programme and the use of mobile technology to deliver SMS support to patients with hypertension and promote adherence to treatment. This innovation is being evaluated in a clinical trial in collaboration with researchers from Oxford University.

Professor Levitt concludes, “It is critical that the current focus on NCD be strengthened and expanded, in order to improve the health of patients with chronic diseases and reduce premature mortality. This donation by Discovery is an opportunity to promote the work of the CDIA network.”

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