Aga Khan to pioneer dementia research in Kenya

Kenya is set to pioneer brain research for dementia in a deal between Aga Khan University’s Brain and Mind Institute and Davos Alzheimer Collaborative (DAC).

Agha Khan and DAC say the two-part research programme for dementia aims to address the lack of diversity in dementia research, improve care, and increase access to innovative treatments across Africa.

Despite the fact that 67 percent of people living with dementia reside in developing countries like Kenya research into the disease is mostly concentrated in the developed world resulting in very expensive treatment that is inaccessible to those in the global south.

Dementia in Global South

In January this year for instance, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a breakthrough Alzheimer’s drug, Lecanemab, manufactured by biotechnology companies Biogen and Eisai that is estimated to cost $20,600 or Kes2.9 million.

“Dementia research has been predominantly focused on Global North societies, resulting in a severe lack of scientific information about dementia in the Global South,” said Dr Vaibhav Narayan, Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy and Innovation.

According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds of the world’s population over 60 years old will live in low- and middle-income countries by 2050.

Prof Zul Merali, Founding Director, BMI the research offers an opportunity to tap into the African population which is still young providing enough time to research the advent of the disease known to target mostly the aged population.

Preventing dementia in Kenya

Kenya’s aging population is expected to double in the next three decades, with a 316% increase in people living with dementia by 2050, as reported by Strengthening Responses to Dementia in Developing Countries (STRIDE) Kenya.

The collaborative DAC-BMI projects will focus on understanding and preventing dementia in Kenya. The first phase will utilize rapid ethnographic approaches to explore contextual meanings, attitudes, and perceptions around dementia through qualitative interviews and focus group discussions.

In the second phase of the project, researchers will work closely with neurologists at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi to characterize a large cohort of people living with dementia alongside a parallel group of typically aging Kenyan adults.

“The BMI-DAC partnership addresses the growing challenge of dementia, which we will all be increasingly facing in the near future, especially in LMICs. By acting now, especially in Africa where the population is young (median age of 20 years), we have the opportunity to avert the Alzheimer’s pandemic,” Prof Merali.

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