International diabetes study launched at UWC

4 Mar 2016 - 13:15
The SMART2D research team at the School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.
The SMART2D research team at the School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.

SMART2D (self-management and reciprocal learning for the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes’) is an international collaborative research project between researchers from top universities in Africa and Europe, which was launched earlier this year in Cape Town at the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

SMART2D is aimed at developing and testing new ways of reducing Type 2 diabetes in lower-, middle- and higher-income countries. Project leader and CDIA member, Professor Thandi Puoane said the four-year collaborative research project was funded under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme of the European Commission (EC), and involved seven research facilities in Sweden and Southern Africa, including the School of Public Health (SoPH) at UWC.

“The study aims at building the capacity of community health workers to enable them to better support patients with diabetes. This will lessen the load of health workers working at hospitals and clinics and significantly reduce overcrowding at the health facilities,” said Professor Puoane.

The study will be conducted in three settings: a rural village in Uganda, an urban township in South Africa and among urban immigrant populations in Stockholm, Sweden.

Diabetes is a growing problem world- wide. It is estimated that by 2030, it will become the seventh leading cause of death. And according to Professor Andre Kengne, Director of the Non- Communicable Diseases Research Unit at  the  South African Medical Research Council, sub-Saharan Africa will be one of the regions hardest hit by increases in diabetes. South Africa has one of the highest incidences of diabetes in Africa, with an estimated 8.4% of the adult population suffering from the condition.

According to the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology, more than 3.5 million people in South Africa have diabetes, with about half being undiagnosed.

About 90% of South Africans who have diabetes, suffer from Type 2, which is associated with bad lifestyle indicators such as obesity, poor diet and not getting enough exercise.

“The changing food environment induces us to eat more processed foods and drink more soft drinks. This rise in diabetes is linked to this sugar epidemic,” said Professor Stefan Peterson, one of the principal investigators on SMART2D, at the launch of the project.

CDIA Director Professor Naomi Levitt of the University of Cape Town said an initiative with this kind of reach and depth of commitment promised to make a significant impact in the fight against diabetes, both in South Africa and the rest of the world. “We need more programmes and projects like these if we want to change the outcome of non-communicable diseases, like diabetes, in South Africa.”

Professor Puoane agrees. “There are many challenges but if we work together, there is hope that we can rise above them and begin to address the global crisis of diabetes.”