September 19, 2020

Using data to tackle non-communicable diseases


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ft1297From Trinidad Express Newspapers

research in action

This is the second in a four-week series highlighting the research projects that will be recognised with prestigious at the upcoming UWI-NGC Research Awards Ceremony on October 1.

Prof Surujpal Teelucksingh, lead researcher for a project entitled “The Caribbean Regional Non-Communicable Diseases Surveillance System Project” and Professor of Medicine, Department of Clinical Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, will receive the 2014 Campus Award for Most Outstanding Regional Research Project. His project is featured in this week’s column.

In 1953 at the age of 47, the father of Sir Vidia Naipaul succumbed to a heart attack. In that era, heart attacks were very rare indeed but not so now.

In Trinidad and Tobago, like many other Caribbean territories, heart attack is now the leading killer and about half of all deaths are linked to heart disease. The obesity epidemic is a notable forerunner and diabetes a frequent companion. Current figures show that close to 60 per cent of Trinidadians and Tobagonians between 15-64 years of age are overweight/obese, about 30 per cent are hypertensive and about 25 per cent are diabetic. What is more troubling is that every successive generation of our children is becoming fatter, with the number of obese/overweight school children tripling within the last 10 years. We can therefore expect that heart disease will become more common and will also occur earlier in life.

Given this looming threat, The “Caribbean Regional Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Surveillance System” was designed to improve how data associated with such diseases are collected, organised and analysed. Good quality data of this type would facilitate how we organise and deliver on ways and means of controlling this triple epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

This research idea spurred the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to back the project with a grant of US$650,000 and this was generously supported with US$580,000 from six Caricom countries: Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana and Jamaica.

Professor of Medicine at The University of The West Indies, Surujpal Teelucksingh, led the regional team that included UWI staff from sister Campuses in Mona (Prof Rainford Wilks) and Cave Hill (Prof Anselm Hennis) as well as the chief medical officers from the Ministries of of the six participating countries and Dr Glennis Andall, representative of the then-Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (Carec), now called the Caribbean Public Agency (CARPHA).

The St Augustine Campus of The University of The West Indies was the nerve centre of the project and drew upon the outstanding service of colleagues from the Department of Clinical Medical Sciences (Dr Rohan Maharaj and Hyacinth Chow) and the Office of Research Development and Knowledge Transfer (Lauren Boodhoo and Dr David Rampersad).

explains further, “This project continued the rich UWI tradition of cooperation among the countries to help solve common problems to improve the quality of life here in the region.” This sentiment was supported by the project’s 2010 midterm evaluation by Tara Lisa Persaud, which reported on “other unintended benefits such as: the increased recognition, goodwill and trust engendered in UWI as a development partner and a facilitator of cooperation between and among countries.”

One of the significant project achievements was a comprehensive gap analysis to identify the challenges and opportunities to improve data and data collection in the participating countries. This analysis provided the documentation necessary to present to stakeholders to mobilise their support for action.

The final project evaluation report, commissioned by the IDB, cited this gap analysis as a significant output, “as no such analysis had existed before and the results have since been used to inform both national and regional programmes. For example, both Barbados and Jamaica have used the gap analysis to improve their national surveillance mechanisms, and as a baseline from which to assess change.”

Other notable project achievements include the design of a software tool for data sharing, a mobile technology alert system, a screening protocol, and models for primary and chronic care. The evaluation report also mentioned the project’s creation of a platform for the cross-fertilisation of ideas, strategies, products or services, among the countries on other health issues, and the interest expressed by Caricom members, particularly the OECS and Suriname, to extend the project to include them as commendable outcomes of this project.

As early as the October 2010 mid-term evaluation of the project, a number of unanticipated benefits of this project were also identified. Key among these was the formation of strong networks among the Ministries of Health across the region which encouraged cross-linkages and sharing of experiences on NCDs.

In her November 2012 report on the final evaluation of the project, Dr Bernice Khan stated that the majority of stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the quality of the outputs of the project. “The most valuable output appears to be the web-based IT platform and the Alert tool that will markedly improve access to data, facilitate comparative data being generated by end-users of varying interests and allow for the timely analysis of data directly at the country level.”

Prof Teelucksingh concurred with this assessment: “This platform has the potential to become a living, growing data-source. When one considers the economic burden placed on the region in dealing with NCDs and the potential for a project such as this to help reduce the amount of money that governments and individuals must spend from their dwindling resources to treat with and live with chronic diseases, the value in these data tools and other project outputs should not be ignored!”

Prof Teelucksingh further elaborated on the project’s achievements in the context of benefits for the people living with, or at risk for chronic diseases and for the wider regional societies and economies grappling with the burgeoning problem of NCDs: “This project represents a small but important victory in the larger and continuing battle against the major public health enemy in the region. Future generations will judge us harshly if we do not use data generated from a project like this one to build infrastructure and capacity to stem the advancing tide of obesity, diabetes and heart disease”.

UWI awards ceremony

The UWI Research Awards Ceremony 2014 will be held on October 1 at 5.30 p.m. at the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), UWI St Augustine Campus. This event is open to the public. Persons interested in attending are asked to RSVP by calling 662-2002 ext 83942/83937/82180 or e-mailing [email protected] For more information on UWI-NGC Research Awards 2014, please visit:

IMAGE: CAMPUS AWARD: Prof Surujpal Teelucksingh

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