Standing in the lobby of the Sheraton Times Square Hotel at the Clinton Global Initiative’s 10th annual meeting, Kenyan physician Dr. Allan Pamba excitedly tells me about a new initiative to train African scientists in non-communicable disease (NCD) research. This $8.1 million NCD Open Lab is the brainchild of GlaxoSmithkline (GSK), where he is now vice president of pharmaceuticals for East Africa, but I first met him when he was an intern at a rural hospital in the foothills of Mount Kenya nearly 15 years ago. He explains to me that he now thinks of non-communicable diseases with the same urgency as he did infectious diseases back then.
Like Pamba, for as long as I can remember, working as a doctor in sub-Saharan Africa, the three big catchwords were: malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. These diseases ravaged the sub-continent and, rightfully so, received the most funding. But while donors have poured resources into fighting infectious diseases, non-communicable, chronic diseases have quietly but rapidly ascended the morbidity and mortality ladders, especially high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Today, cardiovascular disease is the number-one cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa in adults over the age of 30. Globally, low- and middle-income countries bear 80 percent of the world’s death burden from cardiovascular disease. One of the strongest drivers is undiagnosed and untreated hypertension, which affects nearly one in two Africans over the age of 25—the highest rate of any continent in the world.