Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are taking an increasingly large toll on the health and well-being of individuals in South Africa. For example, in Africa Health Research Institute’s (AHRI) research area in rural northern KwaZulu-Natal, approximately one in every four people over the age of 15 has high blood pressure (hypertension). Less than half of those with hypertension have their disease well treated and under control. Meanwhile clinics are full, patients sometimes wait for hours to be seen, and clinic staff are stretched thin, particularly in the time of Covid-19.

In response, NCDs are a growing priority area at AHRI. A new randomised trial led by a partnership between AHRI, the Department of Health in KwaZulu-Natal and collaborators from University of KwaZulu-Natal and Harvard Medical School illustrates that growing interest. The ‘Implementation of a combination intervention for sustainable blood pressure control in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’ (IMPACT-BP) study will test whether we can improve blood pressure treatment in rural South Africa by shifting the focus of care from the clinic to the home, empowering patients with home-blood pressure cuffs, community health worker support, and nursing-led clinical care programmes. Secondary benefits from such a strategy includes decongesting clinics and reducing the need for transportation to and from clinics for patients with good control.

In January, the local study team hosted provincial, district and local Department of Health partners, led by Ms Sindi Mthethwa; Dr Nombulelo Magula, the UKZN principal collaborator; Dr Mark Siedner and Dr Thomas Gaziano, the AHRI and Harvard Medical School principal collaborators, for meetings with community health workers and supervisors, and site visits to the Madwaleni and Nkundusi clinics, where the trial will be launched.

(Top photo: The IMPACT-BP Study Team and collaborators. From left to right: Siphephelo Dlamini, Dr Mark Siedner, Thabang Manyaapelo, Thembinkosi Mathenjwa, Nsika Sithole, Thokozani Tembe, Dr Thomas Gaziano, Dr Nombulelo Magula, Dr Alison Castle, Sabelo Mtungwa, Sindi Mthethwa, Dr Thandeka Khoza. Face coverings were removed momentarily for the purposes of taking the photo)