Dr Anthony Ngugi (left) Interim Chair, AKU Department of Population Health, Dr Josh Ehrlich (centre) Research Assistant Professor, Institute for Social Research and Dr Wilson Njenga, Public Health Officer, Kaloleni during the study in Kilifi County
In Africa, the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to increase by 2050 – from the current 5.6% to over 15%. However, there is very little data on the aging population. To address these gaps, the Aga Khan University (AKU) and Center for Global Health Equity have received a 338,000-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health, NIH.
“Over the next 30 years, as Kenya becomes a place where people live longer and need different kinds of care, social structures will need to change. It is vital to begin studying both population-level trends and individual aging trajectories to understand risk factors for health, disability, and well-being in the Kenyan context," said Dr Anthony Ngugi, Interim Chair, AKU Department of Population Health and co-principal investigator of the study.
The NIH grant supports pilot work to lay groundwork for future grant applications aimed at launching the full-scale Longitudinal Study of Health and Aging in Kenya (LOSHAK), a cohort study of Kenyan adults aged 45 and older. The study will enroll thousands of participants and will follow them over the course of years.
“Kenyan researchers and our partners can provide data that informs the social and policy adjustments we need in Kenya to address the growing needs of an aging population. Such an approach requires commitment from participants and patience to see how results unfold over the years," added Dr Ngugi.
Key focus areas include Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, mental health, the health and economic impacts of climate change and air pollution, and factors influencing late-life economic well-being.
Prof Lukoye Atwoli, Dean, AKU Medical College, East Africa said; “We are very proud to be associated with the LOSHAK study which seeks to address major gaps in population-level data on aging in Kenya. This is in line with AKU's vision to become a global research university through engaging in clinical practice, teaching and enhancing of our research programmes. As an institution, we want to focus on high quality research with high impact on the population of East Africa and beyond that would be strongly aligned with national health research priorities for relevance and impact."
The LOSHAK study utilizes an existing study platform, the Kaloleni/Rabai Community Health and Demographic Surveillance System, a population-based research platform that includes more than 14,000 individuals over the age of 45 living in coastal Kenya.
Dr Josh Ehrlich, Research Assistant Professor with the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan and co-principal investigator said, “Our partners at AKU have strong relationships with communities in the coastal region, and these relationships—the trust and understanding they've built—make all the difference in the quality of the research."
Dr Ngugi and Dr Ehrlich will use preliminary data and findings collected during this initial phase to improve the study's infrastructure and, eventually, to propose a larger rollout in Kenya to field a nationally representative sample.
Along with the population-based insights on aging and health in Kenya and the cross-national comparisons LOSHAK will provide, the study also advances the Center for Global Health Equity's model of collaboration.
“The Center is committed to fostering sustainable relationships as we pursue collaborations with international partners, such as Aga Khan University," said Joseph Kolars, Director of the Centre for Global Health Equity. “Such relationships go hand-in-hand with projects that are truly co-designed, and LOSHAK is a remarkable example of bringing together two existing studies in a creative way."