More people will die this year from cardiovascular disease than any other single cause in the world.
And while a vast majority of those deaths will take place in developing nations, Robert Bonow, MD, Max and Lilly Goldberg Distinguished Professor of Cardiology, is helping to also raise a red flag in places like Qatar, where modernization is bolstering the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and disease.
“In many parts of the world people stopped doing physical labor and stopped walking and they started riding in cars, smoking cigarettes, and eating fast food,” Bonow said. “These urban populations now have access to cheap, high caloric food and have become sedentary; they’ve started developing all of America’s bad habits.”
The richest country in the world according to Forbes, Qatar offers a unique case study of what modernization can mean for a nation’s health, especially when it lacks the medical framework to address concerns.
“In Qatar right now there is no sustainable professional medical research workforce to get the job done. People who do have research training tend to leave and go elsewhere,” Bonow said. “In order to create a healthcare system that includes physicians and other healthcare workers, there has to also exist an infrastructure for research opportunities.”
Helping the nation produce a complete healthcare system that does more than provide medical assistance is a challenge Bonow has taken upon himself.
“This is where research is important,” he said. “If you want to make a difference, whether on a small or large scale, you need evidence and data. You need to convince the leaders of a country that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. If you want to focus on solutions, you first have to demonstrate the problems and you need some evidence of the nature of the issues.”
According to figures from the World Health Organization, 70 percent of women and 60 percent of men in Arab nations are classified as overweight or obese. With one in four suffering from diabetes and sedentary lifestyles prevalent, an estimated 45 percent of all deaths in the region are caused by coronary heart disease.
“The Middle East has a huge problem regarding cardiovascular disease risk factors, displaying some of the worst demographics in the world when it comes to diabetes, smoking, and lack of exercise,” said Bonow, director of Feinberg’s Center for Cardiovascular Innovation. “In places like Qatar, where they built a brand new heart hospital, we are working to help them develop clinical trials and basic research facilities.”
That research capacity could then focus on more regional healthcare problems, like specific causes of cardiovascular disease.
“If you look at Qatar and also at poorer nations, on the surface, they are totally disconnected,” Bonow said. “You are talking about countries with huge human needs and a lack of resources on the one hand, and bringing healthcare to a country which is prosperous, growing, and has the vision to be a worldwide leader on the other. But Qatar matters because it has the financial capacity to help its neighbors by pursuing global health research initiatives.”
As an adviser in Qatar, Bonow tries to make the day-long journey to the Middle Eastern nation at least once a month. Once there, his itinerary is consumed by meetings with medical and government officials. The hope is that the relationships being cultivated today will at some point translate to collaborative work with researchers here in America.