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RHD Researchers pitch to fierce Dragon's at WCC

25 June 2016
Dr Emmy Okello presents proposal "A Better Understanding of RF in Africa" to the Dragons Den

On 6th June an interactive session entitled ‘Dragon’s Den’ was held at the World Congress of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Health in Mexico City. 

In an exciting session facilitated by Dr Liesl Zühlke & Dr Mark Engel of the University of Cape Town, four researchers were given the chance to present their proposals, before being interrogated by a panel of RHD experts: Dr Zühlke stated that one aim of the session was ‘to strengthen grant applications and approvals’. 

The four ‘dragons’ were Professor Andrew Steer, University of Melbourne and Group Leader of the Group A Streptococcal Research Group at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Professor Bongani Mayosi of the University of Cape Town, Dr Kathryn Taubert, Vice President of Global Strategies, at the American Heart Association, and Dr Ganesan Karthikeyan, Professor of Cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. 

After each researcher presented their proposal, the dragons and the audience were asked to vote on whether they would choose to fund their work - $25,000, $50,000 or a maximum of $100,000 – or advise that major revisions were required.

There were four presenters during the session: Dr Tom Parks, Medical Research Council Clinical Research Training Fellow investigating genetic susceptibility to group A streptococcal (GAS) disease, Dr David Watkins, from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, Dr Blance Cupido of the University of Cape Town and Dr Emmy Okello from the Uganda Heart Institute. 

Dr David Watkins, from the IHME and the University of Cape Town sought seed funding to start an RHD economic and policy think tank, to be based at UCT. 

Asking for the maximum budget of $100,000, Dr Watkins emphasised the usefulness of the creation of such a body, saying it would provide urgent policy guidance for African governments and international partners working towards universal health coverage and improved RHD prevention and control. 

In a summary of the first research questions the think tank would pursue, Dr Watkins invited the audience to consider issues such as the most economically efficient approach to cardiac surgery, the cost of an integrated control programme in an African setting and how much investment should go into GAS vaccine research. He stated that this information was lacking, as only 5 analyses had been conducted on RHD economics since 2000. 

His presentation won over the dragons, who all awarded David Watkins $100,000 for his venture. 

This pitch was followed by that of Dr Blanche Cupido, who proposed a programme for sustainable training of staff in echocardiographic screening in the Western Cape in South Africa.

Over the course of a two-year programme, nurses would be trained to screen school children – in grades 1 and 7 – and be responsible for a number schools in the same area. 15 nurses would be trained in the first year of the programme, with the remaining 15 trained in the second. 

As school nurses, the dragons’ funding would be solely for the nurses’ initial training in echo screening. Dr Cupido said that she hoped the programme would thereafter be sustainable, with trained nurses teaching younger nurses.

While Dr Cupido did not fully convince all of the dragons – with two awarding only $50,000 and one suggesting major revisions were required – one did award her the full amount of $100,000.  You can read more on wide variety of RHD Congress sessions on the RHD Action website.