Rollins Helps Launch Chronic Disease Research Center in India

A community health center in Kerala.| Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
A community health center in Kerala, India. | Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As part of a collaboration with three other health institutions outside the U.S., the Rollins School of Public Health helped develop India’s Center for Control of Chronic Conditions (CCCC), a research institute for the study of chronic health problems.

The center will serve as a facility for researchers studying causes, preventative measures and treatments of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, mental disorders, strokes, cardiovascular problems and cancer, which are responsible for 53 percent of deaths in India and 60 percent of the world’s deaths, according to World Health Organization’s most recent data.

“Chronic diseases are a major problem in the U.S. but also a problem in mid-level countries like India,” Rollins Dean Jim Curran said, when asked why a country with a lower GDP per capita would need such a research center.

India’s 2013 per capita GDP, according to the World Bank’s most recent data, was a meager $5,411.60.

Curran, along with five other Rollins administrators, attended Indian Minister of State for Science and Technology Y. S. Chowdary’s formal launch of the CCCC at its New Delhi headquarters within the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) on Tuesday, April 7. The center is a product of a partnership between Rollins, the PHFI, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Donors of the CCCC include the National Institutes of Health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the London-based Wellcome Trust and a variety of private donors, according to Curran, who attended the New Delhi launch. PHFI President K. Srinath Reddy will preside over the nascent institution.

The researchers studying these conditions, according to Curran, will publish their findings for the benefit of nations across the globe, not just India.

Venkat Narayan, the Ruth and O.C. Hubert professor of global health and epidemiology and a professor of medicine at Rollins who also attended the launch, agreed.

“Whatever can be done [at the center] in India can be applied to other places,” Narayan said.

Narayan stressed the importance of addressing chronic disease in a country as large as India, whose population topped 1.25 billion in 2013, according to the World Bank’s most recent data.

“To think of chronic diseases, these are the leading causes of death in much of the world,” Narayan said. “India is very large, has a large population and has a huge share of these non-communicable diseases.”

Rollins’ seven-year partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Diseases, PHFI and AIIMS, which culminated in the creation of the CCCC over the past year and a half, will serve as a bridge for Indian and American students, according to Narayan.

“People from India will come to the U.S. to be trained, people from Emory will go do research in India,” he said. “It’s become a really vibrant collaboration that we’ve developed over the past several years.”

Rollins doctoral student Unjali Gujral, who will start a postdoctoral fellowship under Narayan in June and whose research focuses on the higher risk of diabetes among people of Asian-Indian descent, called the center “crucial,” as it gives researchers the opportunity to examine the lifestyle choices that lead to chronic conditions in individuals in India.

“Chronic diseases are now global problems, and as such, there is a need for true global collaborations to address them,” Gujral, who has worked for PHFI in the past, wrote in an email to the Wheel.

She added that she hopes to work at the center for part of her fellowship and throughout her career.

— By Lydia O’Neal

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