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Population studies are the lifeblood of Professor Karen Sliwa (University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa), who will deliver this morning’s ESC Geoffrey Rose Lecture on Population Sciences.
Prof. Sliwa’s studies in Africa have helped to map previously unknown cardiovascular disease patterns throughout the region—leading to policy changes—and paved the way for further global cardiovascular health studies. A world leader in cardiovascular disease in pregnancy and postpartum, her work has been instrumental in helping to establish the ESC EURObservational Programme on Peripartum Cardiomyopathy global registry, which she chairs jointly with Professor Johann Bauersachs. Across a range of areas, her involvement in setting up registries led to the initiation of a number of major research projects and programmes, and has helped train doctors across Africa. In 2019, Prof. Sliwa started a new challenge when she began her two-year term as President of the World Heart Federation (WHF).
A German national, Prof. Sliwa has spent much of her working life on the African continent. Her lecture—‘Heart failure can affect everyone’—draws on the research she started early in her career. “I immigrated to South Africa in 1992 and worked for 18 years in Soweto. It was there, at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, that I started what became a ground-breaking project, the Heart of Soweto Study. This project described the cardiovascular health of people living in Soweto over a period of three years. Because the roughly three million people living in Soweto have access to only one hospital—my hospital—everyone with a heart problem came to us. This allowed us to get a very detailed description of the different cardiovascular diseases in over 8,000 people.” A primary publication in The Lancet in 2008,1 was followed by over 30 subsequent reports on different aspects of heart disease. “Before this project, a lot of the information had just not been known for African populations,” she says. Prof. Sliwa then joined forces with regional cardiovascular colleagues to expand her research across other African countries, in the Heart of Africa studies. “These studies investigated a range of cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, cardiac disease in pregnancy and, of course, peripartum cardiomyopathy.”
She is proud of speaking up for those who have no voice. “My research has focused mainly on diseases of poverty, in people who have poor access to healthcare. It has traditionally been difficult to get people in more affluent regions, such as North America and much of Europe, to be interested in global health. And, in the past, many journals have not been keen to publish these types of data. With the Heart of Soweto study, and its publication in The Lancet, we managed to break through these barriers.” She is also proud that others have been inspired by her work to explore health issues in their own countries. “For example, one of my PhD students and WHF Emerging Leader, Dike Ojji, was first author on the CREOLE study, published in New England Journal of Medicine in March this year, which investigated the best two-drug combination of antihypertensive agents for use in black African patients.2 I want to encourage researchers from all countries and to say that it is worthwhile setting up research that is relevant for your region and submitting to high-impact journals. We need this type of research because we can all learn from population studies.”
ESC Geoffrey Rose Lecture on Population SciencesToday, 10:20 – 11:00; Prague – Village 2
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