The International Health Research Group (IHRG) assesses the burden and aetiology of infectious and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among populations integrating principles and procedures underlying epidemiology, genomics and public health. The group has a strong interest in exploring epidemiological transitions in low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where NCDs are rapidly becoming leading causes of morbidity and death.
Rapid urbanisation in SSA has been linked to poverty and a growing burden of NCDs, including diabetes and heart disease. For instance, over the next 20 years, it is predicted that SSA will have the highest growth in the number of people with diabetes of any region in the world—with a doubling of the current prevalence (8%). The epidemiological transition from infectious to non-infectious diseases may, in part, reflect changes in the reciprocal influence of infectious and non-infectious factors. Interestingly, there has been some speculation concerning possible associations between chronic infections (e.g. HIV) and NCDs, which could have wide ranging implications for SSA populations bearing a high burden of both disease types.
In this aetiological framework, epidemiological approaches can help describe and elucidate the determinants and consequences of the distribution and prevalence of infectious and metabolic risk factors, which may be specific to regions and countries. Additionally, the use of emerging genome-wide genotyping and sequencing technologies may provide new insights into the biological mechanisms underlying the development of complex diseases and traits among populations. Collectively, these approaches help inform strategies for disease prevention and treatment and plan health services that meet the needs of the population.
Part of the effort of the IHRG is directed toward developing strategies for data harmonisation and sharing of resources, bringing together epidemiological studies and research expertise and infrastructure across SSA, with the final goal of improving the health of African populations. Our work is broadly organised along the following themes: field epidemiology and assessment of disease burden; disease aetiology and underlying biological mechanisms; strategies for prevention and treatment; and health systems planning and response.