International Health Lecture 2016

Professor Karen Sliwa delivered the 2016 Academy of Medical Sciences and The Lancet International Health Lecture under the title 'The heart of Africa: succeeding against the odds'.

On 25 October, the Academy of Medical Sciences, in partnership with The Lancet, hosted the 2016 International Health Lecture at the Wellcome Collection, London.

The lecture was presented by Professor Sliwa, Director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa, University of Cape Town, under the title 'The heart of Africa: succeeding against the odds'.

A video of the lecture can be viewed on the Academy's YouTube channel by following this link. To coincide with the lecture, Professor Sliwa also wrote a manuscript under the same title which has been published by The Lancet. You can access the manuscript, free of charge following registration, from The Lancet's website.

The Academy's Foreign Secretary, Professor George Griffin FMedSci, has offered a few reflections on the lecture which can be read below. For more information about the lecture series, including past events, please visit this page.


During this year's International Health Lecture, Professor Silwa described the immense burden of cardiac disease in Africa and detailed how she had defined the demography of disease and established a framework for further detailed studies. She also explained how, in order to progress her work, she had rebuilt and further established cardiac institutes and equipped these with the modern technology important for contemporary cardiological investigations.

Professor Sliwa introduced the lecture by explaining how rapid urbanisation and demographic change had resulted in an increased prevalence of various heart diseases among African populations. She noted, however, that the true extent and burden of this issue had been poorly understood, and continued to passionately describe her extensive experience in leading several studies to better understand the epidemiology, clinical presentation, and socio-demographical drivers of cardiac disease in Africa.

Providing wider context, Professor Sliwa noted the difficult conditions under which many of the studies had been conducted, citing challenges such as the availability of funding. However, through truly driven and collaborative efforts, these studies have been highly successful and influential. Notably, the insights into the evolving burden and presentation of cardiac disease have since provided opportunities to develop several interventional studies, which in turn have led to improved patient care in a number of African countries.  

Professor Sliwa also detailed how she simultaneously focused on understanding the causative mechanism underlying peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM; a rare type of heart failure presenting either during or shortly after pregnancy), revealing the true extent of her influence across all areas of healthcare, from basic research to clinical care.

Professor Sliwa concluded her presentation with several ambitions for the future, emphasising the strength and importance of curiosity-driven research and encouraging those in the room to value the enjoyment that can be gained from collaborative teamwork.

The International Health Lecture provides a platform for leaders in global health to discuss topics of international significance, promoting debate, discussion and the exchange of ideas on current research. This lecture was attended by a diverse audience, including Academy Fellows, academics, representatives from government, charities and industry, and a number of medical and research students.

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