On the 14th of March, over 75 non-communicable diseases researchers and health professionals gathered at the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research (NMIMR) in Accra, Ghana to attend the symposium: ‘Advancing non-communicable disease research in West Africa: building cohorts for multidisciplinary research including genomics studies’. NMIMR organized this symposium in collaboration with Navrongo Health Research Center and the Wits NCD Research Leadership Programme, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) include chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (stroke, hypertension), cancer, diabetes, lung diseases and mental health disorders. NCDs are rising rapidly in sub-Saharan African countries. In fact, more than half of all deaths are caused by NCDs and action is urgently needed to halt the rise. Research will be key to effectively combat the NCD epidemic. In addition to epidemiological studies, the more recently started genomics studies about the role of genes, their functions and interaction with the environment will be essential to identify strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
The symposium was organized by postdoctoral researchers Dr. Mary Amoakoh-Coleman (NMIMR) and Dr. Paulina Tindana (Navrongo Health Research Center), both fellows of the Fogarty-NIH funded Wits NCD Research Leadership Training Program, introduced by Prof. Kerstin Klipstein-Grobusch (UMC Utrecht/Wits).
In the morning, various successful NCD research initiatives were presented. Dr. Evelyn Konkor Ansah, Deputy Director of the Research & Development Division of the Ghana Health Services presented the national priorities for NCD research. Dr. Vincent Boima presented the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Kidney Disease Network, an initiative that focuses on the genetics underlying kidney diseases and other NCDs. Prof. Ama de-Graft Aikins introduced the Research on Obesity and Diabetes among African Migrants (RODAM) study, run by a consortium of African and European partners that follows the health status of Ghanaians in rural Ghana, urban Ghana, London, Berlin and Amsterdam. Prof. Jacob Plange-Rhule emphasized the need for capacity building, engagement of early career researchers in NCD-related research, and need for collaboration and funding opportunities to support effective NCD research. Dr. Mary Amoakoh-Coleman illustrated the potential of long-term cohorts and genomic studies, and called upon the participants and other stakeholders to invest in establishing these studies to answer NCD research questions.
The first session in the afternoon focused on ethical issues in genomic research. Dr. Cynthia Bannerman from the Ghana Health Service introduced the view of Ethics committees on genetic (genomic) studies, and ethical issues for researchers to consider in the conduct of research. Dr Paulina Tindana provided the guiding principles for ethics in genomics and biobanking research in Africa. These ask research to be (a) sensitive to and respectful of African values and cultures; (b) be for the benefit of African people; (c) conduct and dissemination of data in publications should take place in genuine and active participation of African investigators and other African stakeholders. Both called for investments in capacity of researchers and ethics committees to ensure ethical standards are upheld in the design and conduct of research.
Early career researchers presented their research in the second session of the afternoon. Dr. Samuel Antwi Oppong, obstetrician at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, conducted a study to improve maternal and infant health outcomes of women with sickle cell disease (SCD) in pregnancy. Through a multidisciplinary team and optimized management protocols, this resulted in a substantial reduction of maternal and perinatal deaths. Dr. Oluwafemi Popoola from the University of Ibadan, presented the challenges of cardiovascular disease management at primary care facilities frontline health workers face, and opportunities to improve this. Dr. Samuel Mawuli Adadey presented a study that disentangled the genetics of hearing impairment in an African population.
In the closing remarks, Prof. Michele Ramsey from Wits University; Dr. Akindele Adeyemi from the University of Ibadan, Dr. Roberta Lamptey Nartey from Korle Bu and Dr. Mamusu Kamanda from the INDEPTH network reiterated the widely supported commitment to increased collaboration between various researchers, studies and institutions.