The University of Birmingham has been awarded £1.9 million through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Global Health Research (GHR) Programme to fund world class research into a common heart condition in disadvantaged populations in China, Brazil and Sri Lanka.

The University’s NIHR Global Health Research Group on Atrial Fibrillation will focus on ways of preventing and treating atrial fibrillation (AF), the most global common cause of an irregular heartbeat which five times increases the risk of stroke.

Over a quarter of strokes are due to AF, and adults have a one in four life-time risk of developing the condition, the main causes of which are high blood pressure and diabetes. 

Professor Neil Thomas, who is jointly leading the research at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research, said: “A third of people with atrial fibrillation, and even more in low and middle-income countries such as China, Brazil and Sri Lanka, do not know they have the condition.

“To reduce the risk of stroke by around two thirds, patients with atrial fibrillation are given anticoagulant drugs to prevent blood clotting, such as warfarin, however under-treatment is common in these countries, leading to missed opportunities in preventing fatal and disabling strokes.

Professor Gregory Lip, a world-leading expert in atrial fibrillation in the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences who is co-leading the research, said: “Our established group at the University of Birmingham has already successfully led changes in atrial fibrillation management in the UK, and in European countries with different healthcare systems, by promoting stroke risk assessment and enabling clinicians to initiate treatment in an integrated manner.

“Given the importance of this need, we plan to support our partners in China, Brazil and Sri Lanka to develop tailored research to improve the treatment and management of this condition in these countries.”

The team has planned two pilot research projects in each country, developing and adapting known effective methods to increase awareness and treatment of atrial fibrillation, by consulting with local patients, families, healthcare providers and policy-makers and findings from systematic reviews.

On the ground training will be designed and delivered, and the team will focus on developing new funding proposals to sustain the collaboration in the long-term, including engaging with major stakeholders to develop sustainable models of best care practice.

The University of Birmingham is one of a total of 20 NIHR GHR Groups to have received a slice of £40 million funding, covering a broad range of research themes, including: improving asthma outcomes in African children; health system responses to violence against women, and preterm birth prevention and management.

Dr Louise Wood, Director, Science, Research and Evidence Directorate, Department of Health and Social Care, said: “The NIHR is adding substantive value to the field of global health and helping to keep the UK at the forefront of health knowledge for global benefit.

“These new activities complement the breadth and range of our existing portfolio of funded research to improve health outcomes across LMICs and demonstrate the NIHR’s role in supporting the UK Aid Strategy.”

The NIHR GHR programme allocates the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)'s Official Development Assistance (ODA) research funding, delivering internationally-outstanding applied global health research for the direct and primary benefit of patients and the public LMICs. To find out more, please see our global health webpage.

The announcement comes as Saturday 29 September marks World Heart Day, the World Heart Federation’s global campaign to raise awareness of heart health.