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The Voice of the Black Community


Tracking Africa’s silent killers
Charlotte native studying chronic disease
Published Wednesday, July 27, 2011 5:08 pm
by Herbert L. White

A Charlotte native is part of a groundbreaking study of public health in Africa.

Charlotte native and Harvard University epidemiologist Todd Reid PhD is on an international team studying chronic diseases in Africa. The survey of 500,000 people in four countries would encompass at least 10 years. Reid is a 1990 graduate of West Charlotte High School.

Todd Reid PhD, a 1990 West Charlotte High School graduate, is one of four epidemiologists managing the Harvard School of Public Health’s Africa/HSPH Partnership for Cohort Research and Training, or PaCT. The survey investigates lifestyle factors and chronic disease in Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania and Nigeria. Results from the pilot study launched last year are expected in October. Researchers expect to recruit up to 500,000 participants and follow them over 10 years.

“We’re focusing on chronic diseases because there is a transition that’s occurring in Africa and pretty much everywhere in the world where most of the developing countries have been afflicted by higher rates of HIV, TB and malaria,” Reid said. “They’re also experiencing a double burden of disease with chronic disease like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension, all of the cancers and obesity.

Similar studies are commonplace in the U.S. and Europe, Reid said, but Africa is unfamiliar territory, primarily because of efforts to stop infectious diseases. But as Africans develop more westernized (and sedentary) lifestyles, the research team led by Drs. Hans-Olov Adami and Michelle Holmes believes links to chronic diseases can yield clues that could stop the spread of such maladies. 

“There are no such large-scale studies on the continent of Africa, so this will be the largest study on the continent looking at chronic diseases,” Reid said, “so it’s ground-breaking in that sense.

“Before the Africans experience the double burden of disease, we want to come in and set up these large longitudinal cohort studies to understand what lifestyle factors specific to Africa might be causing some of the chronic diseases they’re starting to develop. You can’t really understand these factors until you set up these studies.”

Reid isn’t the only Charlotte connection to the project. Anthony McClenny, a 2008 Vance High School graduate and senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, served a six-week summer internship at the South Africa project site.

In addition to collaborating with African health professionals, U.S. researchers will launch the ImpacTree Project, a social media campaign and foundation Reid developed in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to raise awareness of the project. Also, the study will use cell phones to gather information along with traditional survey methods such as one-on-one interviews and questionnaires.

On the Net:

Harvard School of Public Health’s Africa/HSPH Partnership for Cohort Research and Training


ImpacTree Project



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