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22 October 2018

King's awarded £2 million to improve stroke care in Sierra Leone

Will Richard, Communications & Engagement Officer

A team from King's has been awarded £2 million by the NIHR to improve care for stroke patients and support for their families in Sierra Leone.

photo of classroom in Sierra Leone
Physiotherapy teaching in Sierra Leone

A team from King’s School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences, led by Professor Catherine Sackley, has been awarded £2 million by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to improve care for stroke patients and support for their families in Sierra Leone. The project is the first time in the UK that a major global health grant is being led by a physiotherapist as part of a multidisciplinary team.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), stroke is now one of the leading causes of death and disability in Africa, responsible for an estimated 451,000 fatalities a year. Average stroke age in Sub-Saharan Africa is much lower than in high-income economies and the consequences can leave survivors, often working parents, unable to provide for their families or access government support.

In 2010 the WHO highlighted Sierra Leone as the 8th worst affected country in the world (by disability adjusted life years lost to stroke) but, with a population of nearly seven million people, there is currently no dedicated stroke unit and limited capacity to train the physiotherapists who are vital to rehabilitation.

Effective use of data has led to the design of coordinated, specialist care and reduced both stroke numbers and the severity of their impact in the NHS. The team from King’s working with the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS), University of Sierra Leone through the established King’s Sierra Leone Partnership programme, aims to do the same in Sierra Leone.

There are an estimated 1,000 stroke patients admitted every year to the two largest hospitals in the capital, Freetown. The reasons why people have strokes, however, vary from region to region and between different ethnic groups. The first step, therefore, is to identify the main causes locally to inform subsequent improvements to the healthcare system.

Speaking of the project and the work to come Professor Sackley, Professor of Rehabilitation, said:

I am delighted that the NIHR has chosen to support our work to bring better stroke care to Sierra Leone. Over the next three years we will work with our in-country partners to gather data and develop targeted clinical and policy interventions. I am confident we can make a real difference to patients and their families. As Head of the Academic Department of Physiotherapy at King’s, I am also pleased that the value of physiotherapy in global health research has been recognised. It is excellent to see the profession leading the way.

Professor Catherine Sackley, School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences

Within two years each patient will be treated in a stroke unit by staff who are trained to deliver specialist care and to collect and manage the data needed for future research. By working with patients and their families the project will offer the people who use the system the opportunity to shape it. Key to this is an ongoing programme of physiotherapy and rehabilitation within communities delivered by Sierra Leonean physiotherapists, giving family members the tools and support needed to provide care at home. Beyond the three-year scope of the funding, the team will build on the links COMAHS already has to the government of Sierra Leone and the medical profession to create a system that provides sustainable, long-term care for stroke survivors.  

This is indeed great news for stroke research in Sierra Leone. The scale of this work will substantially add to the meagre information presently available on stroke in Sierra Leoneans. I am hopeful that subsequent studies will allow us to determine the true burden of the condition countywide. We are excited!

Professor Radcliffe Durodamil Lisk, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences