Since 2013, HCPDS’ flagship project, HAALSI, has been examining the under-studied demographic and epidemiologic transition taking place in South Africa, one of many countries whose population has experienced a boost in life expectancy thanks to the successful scale up of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in response to the HIV epidemic, as well as general socioeconomic and health care improvements. These gains in life expectancy, however, have meant that the region has also experienced unprecedented levels of chronic, non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular, metabolic and cognitive diseases, amongst its newly aging population.
With the number of people suffering from dementia globally projected to rise from 55 million (with over 60% living in low- and middle-income countries) to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million by 2050, HAALSI researchers were awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/the National Institute of Aging (NIA) to expand the project into its fourth and fifth wave of data collection with a more concentrated focus on cognitive aging and dementia. As with the earlier waves in the study, specific data about the aging process in rural South Africa is being harmonized with data from other global studies of aging, such as the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) along with sister studies in India, China, Brazil, the UK, Europe, enabling comparisons between the biological, social, and economic determinants of chronic diseases and their effects on functional and health outcomes in aging populations on a global scale.
Co-principal investigators Lisa Berkman, PhD, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and director of HCPDS, and Thomas Gaziano, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, are continuing to collaborate with Stephen Tollman, PhD, director of MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), research professor and head of the Health and Population Division, School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, and his colleagues, along with other a number of researchers from other affiliated institutions.