In the academic year 2018/2019, the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR) was approved as one of the sites for the Global Health Equity Scholars (GHES) Fellowship. GHES is a research training programme for post-doctoral fellows, upper-level PhD students and professional degree students. It is part of the Global Health Programme for Fellows and Scholars sponsored by the Fogarty International Center (FIC) and several collaborating institutes and centres at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The GHES programme brings together a consortium that includes the University of California - Berkeley, the University of Arizona, Stanford University, and Yale University, with affiliated international sites across 24 countries. The purpose of the programme is to support a 12-month mentored research fellowship for investigators who are interested in studying diseases and conditions in developing countries. Trainees are matched with top-tier global health research faculty from one of the four participating US institutions and an international site, enabling them to engage in rich and enduring, mentored research experiences that will foster scientific and career development in global health research. Participation in the GHES will increase access to international mentorship for UWI students and post-doctoral fellows well as bring high performing students and fellows to engage in research at the university.
Researchers at the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre (GA-CDRC) achieved a high publication rate of five peer reviewed articles per staff member, with 26 publications in ranked refereed journals, of which one fifth were in high-impact journals. These publications provide important evidence for regional health issues and contribute to enhancing the reputation of The UWI as a research university.
The GA-CDRC addressed the Caribbean’s growing non-communicable disease epidemic through innovative research investigating the impact of community-based food production initiatives on nutrition and diet-related outcomes, conducting clinical trials to determine the feasibility and impact of a low-calorie diet to induce remission of type 2 diabetes, and evaluating the impact of the Barbados sugar-sweetened beverage tax on beverage sales and consumer behaviour.
To facilitate data collection the Data Group, within the GA-CDRC, has developed a short course on the use of the electronic online data collection software, REDCap. The course has been delivered locally, regionally and internationally. This data collection system is being used in Barbados and Jamaica and in collaborative studies in the UK, South Africa, Kenya and Cameroon.
The Reach Up Early Childhood Parenting programme is a training package developed from the Jamaica Home Visit Intervention programme, to increase capacity for the implementation of parenting programmes for children 0-3 years. The package includes the curriculum, toy manual, training manuals with videos from three countries as well as a guide for adaptation and implementation planning. In partnership with government agencies, universities and NGOs, Reach Up has now been implemented in 14 countries. During the 2018/2019 review period, The UWI team provided technical support for implementation in China and to the International Rescue Committee for programmes for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. In July 2019, in collaboration with the Africa Early Childhood Network, a senior level training workshop was conducted in Nairobi, Kenya for countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Liberia, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.
The Caribbean Institute for Health Research conducted several activities as part of a programme of work to promote healthier food environments. The Institute has established a food label database of packaged foods in Jamaica to track trends in the general retail market and food label systems. This supports national and regional goals to promote healthier food environments, create market solutions to provide healthier options and encourage healthier consumer food choices. CAIHR researchers have also assessed school environments in Jamaica and Barbados, and the nutritional status and activity of primary school children in Jamaica. This information is being used to track trends in the school environment as well as improve related policies and initiatives such as setting guidelines restricting unhealthy foods and beverages in schools. These studies are the first of their kind in Jamaica and Barbados and provide crucial evidence where no national or regional data were previously available.
CAIHR provided technical and research support to policymakers and health advocates in the region, and several other groups and organisations supporting school nutrition, physical activity and food label policies. The main partners are the Heart Foundation of Jamaica and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados. These partnerships have given rise to several obesity prevention mass media campaigns targeting the reduction of sugary beverages and obesity in children. The campaigns included: ‘Are you drinking yourself sick?’, ‘Dad know best’, ‘Switch it up’, “Stop yuh too sweet!”, ‘Do you know what’s in your food?’ and ‘Stop sugar coating the truth’ – all with extensive coverage in print, electronic and social media.
This work is a collaboration with research partners at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. CAIHR also contributes to the Programme and Policy Options for Preventing Obesity in the Low, Middle and Transitional Income Countries, a global initiative involving a network of researchers, public health organisations and advocacy partners from several other countries in the Caribbean, the USA, Latin America and South Africa.
The STRiDE project is a dementia care improvement project taking place in seven developing countries around the world. Jamaica is the only Caribbean country participating and CAIHR is the home for the Jamaica arm of the study which is led by Dr. Ishtar Govia. The project is funded for 2018-2021 (total grant GBP7.9 million) and is coordinated by the London School of Economics. The project’s focus is to understand and inform national and individual practice for people living with dementia and their care takers. This work further establishes CAIHR as a leader in policy relevant research.
During the review period, successful traditional and social media campaigns were implemented with the launch of a monthly e-newsletter the STRiDE Guide in March 2019. The subscription base now stands in excess of 700, and the establishment of STRiDE Jamaica social media platforms and following: Instagram 87 followers; Twitter 226 followers. Radio and television interviews were conducted and the project was the focus of three newspaper features. A helpline number was also introduced.
The STRiDE team partnered with stakeholders and community-based organisations to raise dementia awareness and public education through workshops and outreach events. The signature event was the STRiDE Jamaica workshop with participation from more than 50 stakeholders, including a person living with dementia and family members of dementia patients. During September 2018 (World Alzheimer’s Month) STRiDE Jamaica’s visibility increased with the media recognising the team as the authority for information on dementia in Jamaica. STRiDE was contacted by 45 members of the public seeking assistance and over 140 persons including the Senior Medical Officer attended a Dementia Symposium held in the parish of St Mary. The team also hosted a Dementia Information Desk, at CAIHR during the month. Invited presentations were made at several events and Dr. Govia was asked to deliver remarks on behalf of STRiDE at the Press Launch of the National Council of Senior Citizens in September 2018.