December 19, 2020
CAIHR amplifies the fight against Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes
(Kingston, Jamaica) – Even though the Coronavirus pandemic has shifted the global focus away from other life threating diseases in some countries, the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR) of the University of the West Indies (UWI) remains resolute in playing its part in the fight against the equally devastating epidemics, namely, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. These non-communicable diseases (NCD) have consistently been claiming more lives than any other disease, and particularly among Black populations in the United States (US) and many countries within the Caribbean.
In response to this critical issue and the high burden of NCDs in Jamaica, CAIHR through its Living in Full Health (LIFE) Project is increasing health research efforts and embarking on a collaborative cohort approach study, where 8,000 Jamaicans will be enrolled and monitored overtime in order to understand the role of genetics, social, environmental and lifestyle factors in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The study is funded by the US National Institutes of Health and was conceptualized as part of ongoing collaborations spearheaded by Professor Marshall Tulloch-Reid (CAIHR), Professor Kimlin Ashing (City of Hope Cancer Center, USA) and Professor Camille Ragin (Fox Chase Cancer Center, USA), all members of the African Caribbean Cancer Consortium (AC3).
The CAIHR Institute officially launched the project on Tuesday, December 15, 2020 at the UWI Regional Headquarters in Kingston.
During his remarks at the Launch Health Minister, Dr. the Hon Christopher Tufton said:
“We need to look no further than at the nexus between NCDs and COVID-19 to sharpen our focus on the scale of the problem and the urgent need for its prioritization. Persons with NCDs, we now know, are more likely to suffer adverse health outcomes, including death, from contracting COVID-19.”
New health research
The Minister added that this new health research builds on the work of the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle 2016/17Survey, which he said underscored the scale of the local NCD challenge. “For example, it revealed that one in three Jamaicans 15 years and older has hypertension, while one in eight has diabetes. At the same time, four of every 10 Jamaicans with either diabetes or hypertension are unaware of their status.”
The 8,000 Jamaicans being studied will primarily be chosen from a sample of men and non-pregnant women, aged 30-70 years, who under the study will be administered questionnaires, have body (weight, height, waist and neck) and blood pressure measurements taken and biological samples such as blood, saliva, urine or nails for evaluation. Permission to review medical reports to help to confirm the presence of certain health conditions will also be requested from participants.
The Jamaican perspective
Many of these research studies in the US have a poor representation of Black and Caribbean people as they are often unwilling to participate, despite the high NCD burden in this population. It is for this reason that Professor Marshall Tulloch-Reid, Director of CAIHR and Co-Principal Investigator of the LIFE Project, while giving an overview of the project, highlighted that, one of the primary objectives of the study is to “identify the best strategies to optimize enrollment and retention of Caribbean nationals in cohort studies.”
This he said while highlighting the importance of the Jamaican perspective on the matter and noted that the inclusion of the ordinary Jamaican voice matters.
Professor Tulloch-Reid said, “Going house to house and inviting persons living in these selected communities to participate in the study is part of the LIFE Project’s method of gathering data to help to ensure a representative sample of all Jamaicans.”
However, he pointed out that the project administration has adapted similar but revised safety methods to meet the coronavirus situation.
The research team
The team of researchers involved in the project include lab scientists, psychologists, behaviour specialists, epidemiologists, statisticians, computing/data specialists and health professionals from the Caribbean and the USA. Members of the public will also have key input in providing reference for the areas they would like the study to address.
The LIFE project will build on the lessons learned from studies already conducted in Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas and the USA.
Cohort studies are a very powerful research method that involves collecting information from participants and following them over time to see whether they develop specific conditions. This type of study provides some of the best evidence when putting in place measures to improve healthcare and prevent these conditions among vulnerable groups.
The primary role of CAIHR is to conduct a high-quality research that can inform health policy, programmes and healthcare delivery for regional populations.