Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have a lasting impact that extends throughout adolescent and childhood. Drs. Zulfiqar Bhutta and Jai Das of Aga Khan University’s Institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD-AKU) led a global team that conducted a ground-breaking study published in Nature Medicine that highlights the enormous evidence gap impeding treatments for young lives.
Lead University of Sydney researcher Dr. Rehana Salam and Johns Hopkins MPH candidate Maryam Hameed Khan collaborated with Canadian and IGHD-AKU colleagues to map evidence gaps for NCDs, which affect 41% of children’s disability-adjusted life years worldwide. These NCDs include diabetes, obesity, and mental health.
“Addressing these gaps, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where 70% of premature NCD deaths stem from childhood behaviors, is crucial,” Dr. Salam says. “By collaborating across borders, we can pave the way for impactful interventions shaping the next generation’s health.”
Dr. Das emphasizes the critical window of opportunity that exists in childhood and adolescence to influence behavior and reduce the risk of NCDs in the future. Remarkably, there is a dearth of information regarding risk factors and therapies for this age range, especially in LMICs, where only 3.8% of research is conducted.
The analysis shows a concerning disparity: low to very low evidence for therapies related to drug abuse and obesity, intermediate evidence for interventions related to mental health, and well-evidenced for interventions related to NCD biomarkers and adverse events. The researchers suggest emphasizing digital and community-based delivery platforms, integrating NCD interventions with child health initiatives, and concentrating on vulnerable groups as ways to close this gap.
“This is the first Gap Map in a series of Gap Maps,” says Dr. Bhutta, IGHD-AKU Distinguished University Professor. “We aim to guide LMICs facing NCD challenges in children and adolescents, and trust these findings will spur action and research in the post-pandemic world.”
The study aligns with international health objectives, such as the Sustainable Development Goal of a third fewer NCD deaths by 2030. We can ensure that all children have a healthier future by bridging the early evidence gap.