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New Global Health Research Centre will strengthen healthcare and build capacity in research for non-communicable diseases in Latin America

Professor Victoria Bird, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London (Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry), has been awarded a £7m grant from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to develop a new Global Health Research Centre with partners across Latin America.

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The new Centre will work with communities across Latin America to develop innovative, low-cost solutions to improve healthcare for non-communicable diseases – with a key focus on indigenous populations. Taking the role as Centre co-director alongside Professor Bird is Professor Carlos Gomez-Restrepo, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Javeriana University (Colombia).

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are diseases that are not transferred from person to person, such as mental health conditions, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, or diabetes. Worldwide, they are responsible for 8 out of 10 premature deaths, with the greatest burden in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

This includes countries within Latin America, where long-term NCDs are a leading cause of disability and poor quality of life. There is a lack of community-based care to help people manage long-term conditions, with most currently available limited to hospital-settings.     

The NIHR Global Health Research Centre for the Community Management of Long-term Conditions will bring together researchers from Queen Mary University of London and from three locations across Latin America – Universidad Javeriana in Colombia, Universidad Franz Tamayo in Bolivia, and Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala.     

Working in close partnership with Universidad Javeriana, a leading university in Colombia, the Centre will investigate the best ways to manage long-term conditions, developing interventions using resources available within the community to change factors and behaviours linked to the development of long-term NCDs.

The Centre will develop the skills of local researchers and clinicians and will host a PhD and master’s programme to provide formal training for students in all three countries.   

The NIHR Global Health Research Centres programme funds research-driven partnerships between institutes in LMICs and the UK to carry out high-quality research and strengthen institutional capacity within LMICs to undertake, manage and disseminate high-quality applied health research. The Latin American Centre is one of five research consortia to have been awarded funding in this new programme and is the only one based in Latin America.

Professor Faith Osier, President of the International Union of Immunological Societies and Chair of the NIHR Global Health Research Centres Funding Committee, said: “These new Centres are truly ground-breaking - it’s the first time we’ve seen anything like this level of investment in non-communicable disease research in low and middle income countries. The potential for this truly equitable partnership working between researchers in LMICs and in the UK is immense and we’re so excited to see the advances that the next five years will bring.”

Victoria Bird, Principal Investigator and Centre Co-Director, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the NIHR Centre for the community treatment of long-term conditions in Latin America. The Centre will provide the perfect opportunity to strengthen our existing partnership with PUJ as well as form new links with institutions in Guatemala and Bolivia. The Centre offers a unique opportunity to foster innovation, strengthen research and service capacity and ultimately improve the quality of life for people with long-term conditions across Latin America - including individuals from often neglected indigenous communities.”

Carlos Gomez-Restrepo, MD, MSc, PhD, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and NIHR Centre LEAD in Latin America, said: “This is a one-of-a-kind project and a unique opportunity where we hope to form a critical research mass in Latin America, to ultimately search for solutions and improve quality of life of those living with chronic non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, respiratory and Mental Health Illnesses”

 Astrid Liliana Sanchez, Vice-president of research at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, said: “For the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, the work that will be carried out with this programme is of greatest importance. It will give us the opportunity to create space for integration of our body of work in different regions of Colombia, with all its diversity, support the development of previously non-existing links with fellow Latin American countries, in articulation with global and interdisciplinary development."

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