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Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research team tackles rise of non-communicable disease in Mozambique

Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research Director Professor Simon Stewart and his research team have started a vital health surveillance project in Mozambique aimed at arresting an alarming spike in non-communicable diseases such as strokes and heart attacks.

Professor Stewart, recently returned from Mozambique, said non-communicable diseases killed more than 38 million people a year around the world – and the poorest nations like Mozambique are the ones most struggling due to the impacts of urbanisation transitioning and life-style factors. “Indeed, non-communicable diseases are beginning to rival the traditional killers of malnutrition and endemic communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV AIDS,” Professor Stewart said.

The MacKillop team collaborated with Professor Ana Mocumbi and her clinical researchers at the Instituto Nacional de Saúde and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique. Professor Mocumbi, a qualified paediatrician and cardiologist, is a world leader in the area of childhood and infectious diseases in severely disadvantaged communities. She invited Professor Stewart given his experience in establishing the world-renowned Heart of Soweto Study [] in neighbouring South Africa and other projects linked to the wider Heart of Africa [] collaboration. Professor Stewart’s book The Heart of Africa: Clinical profile of an evolving burden of heart disease in Africa, which has been officially endorsed by the Pan-African Society of Africa, details the most important research findings from Africa as it struggles with the dual threat of communicable and non-communicable forms of heart disease. The book will be published by Wiley Blackwell later this year.

The Mary MacKillop Institute for Health’s Research’s role in Mozambique includes:

  • Mentoring Professor Mocumbi and her team of recently qualified physicians training in public health research on establishing effective surveillance and translational health programs about non-communicable disease.
  • Building capacity, both locally and with a view to establishing Mozambique-wide initiatives, in health services research focusing on non-communicable disease.
  • Launching a sustainable surveillance project designed to unmask the balance between non-communicable versus communicable disease in Mozambique to better inform future health care planning and services.

“As a first step and through the generous support of Professor Wayne McKenna – Australian Catholic University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) – we developed a portable, computer-based data program (translated into Portuguese) that was loaded on to 10 dedicated laptops to be used in the study,” Professor Stewart said. “We then visited Maputo in order to provide direct mentorship to Professor Mocumbi and her team, deliver the functional laptops and pilot test the surveillance study in the Emergency Department of the Mavalane Hospital that services some of the poorest and most disadvantaged regions of the city,” he said.
Professor Mocumbi and her team are now collecting vital data on a randomly selected cohort of the 200 odd cases that present to the Emergency Department (day and night) at Mavalane Hospital. Remarkably, the team is on its way to collecting detailed clinical data on 1200 pediatric and adult cases over a 30-day snapshot period, with plans to extend the study to three other hospitals in urban and rural regions of Mozambique.

With data already being sent through to the MacKillop team for processing, Professor Stewart is proud of the role his team has played in establishing such a vital study – particularly given that it has already been supported by the Mozambique government and is recognised as a vital study in unmasking the previously unknown pattern of hospitalisations for non-communicable disease in that country.

“As always, we have entered a partnership and collaboration with Professor Mocumbi and her Institute that is firmly based on what she and the disadvantaged communities she serves really need,” he said. “In return, we have a rich experience in visiting her beautiful country, meeting many passionate and talented people and, of course, the opportunity to collaborate and support Professor Mocumbi’s efforts to develop new and effective health care services to address an emerging health threat to a country that already struggles with many disadvantages when compared to the rest of the world.”

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