Centre for Cardio-metabolic Research in Africa tackles cardiovascular disease

University management and CARMA members at the launch of the new centre.

Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) recently launched a brand new Centre for Cardio-metabolic Research in Africa (CARMA) in a bid to help stave off the threat of an overall increased burden of heart diseases (also known as cardiovascular diseases) on the African continent.

A Global Burden of Disease study, which was published in The Lancet’s Global Health edition in October 2019, stated that a combination of factors (including lifestyle, urbanisation and poor health education) over the course of the past 20 years have resulted in a significant increase in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases – such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease – in many sub-Saharan African countries.

CARMA deputy director, Professor Hans Strijdom, said the phenomenon of a multiple burden of disease in South Africa and other sub-Saharan African countries, caused by a steady increase in non-communicable diseases against the background of a stubbornly high prevalence of infectious diseases such as HIV and TB, is placing health systems under pressure across the continent. “An ill-prepared health system coupled with a lack of reliable evidence base and poor public awareness about the reality of rising non-communicable diseases is setting us up for ticking time-bomb ready to explode,” said Strijdom, who is a professor in Medical Physiology at the FMHS.

CARMA’s international collaborator, Professor Nandu Goswami who is based at the Medical University of Graz in Austria said cardio-metabolic disorders, which are accompanied by high morbidity and mortality, are on the rise globally. According to him the incidence of these diseases is increasing not only in developed countries but also in developing nations. “A large proportion of adults and children are becoming overweight and/or obese. There is an urgent need to address this issue and centres like CARMA will go a long way in addressing the research and outreach aspects related to early diagnosis and treatment of cardio-metabolic diseases,” said Goswami.

The establishment of CARMA is an important step toward facing this burgeoning health problem. The centre will focus on the following:

  • Attract significant international research and endowment funding to increase high impact research outputs and enhance postgraduate training opportunities;
  • Promote basic research with the aim to translate findings into the clinical context for improved diagnostic tools and/or novel therapeutic interventions;
  • Deliver skilled postgraduates with leadership potential (with an emphasis on the African continent) to make a substantial impact within Africa and globally;
  • Act as a vehicle to especially improve networking of experts within Stellenbosch University and other African tertiary and research-based institutions, and also globally;
  • Nurture future generations of world-class faculty that encompass transformation imperatives;
  • Establish Stellenbosch University as a global leader in the cardio-metabolic field; and
  • Enhance societal impact by community outreach and public awareness campaigns and lobbying / influencing health policy and decision-makers and stakeholders.

Professor Faadiel Essop, the newly appointed CARMA director, commented that significant progress had been made operationally over the past few months. “Although CARMA is hosted within the Division of Medical Physiology in the FMHS, it is indeed a collaborative venture with the Department of Physiological Sciences located within the Faculty of Science at SU.”

Essop further stated that CARMA currently functions as a virtual centre but since its inception a number of joint meetings have resulted in an excellent working arrangement between the different project leaders and students located within the two respective faculties. “As a result we have synergised our research activities into succinct and clear research themes that allows us to better navigate the research and innovation landscape moving forward.”

He also noted that CARMA’s vision is to effectively harness the unique strengths of different project leaders, equipment, consumables and resources with the main objective to better tackle the growing burden of non-communicable diseases on the African continent. “This is crucial especially within an environment where South African research funding is shrinking at an alarming rate. CARMA is also in the process of establishing networks by co-opting several internal and external partners with the eventual aim not only to strengthen existing research activities but also to develop novel research niche areas in order to attract significant international funding that aligns with CARMA’s mission and goals,’’ said Essop.
Florence de Vries