Tackling the hypertension scourge
Nigeria recently joined other countries around the globe to mark this year’s World Heart Day, founded in 2000 by the World Heart Federation to enlighten people that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading causes of death. They claim about 17.3 million lives every year. The theme of the 2015 World Heart Day, ‘Healthy Heart Choices for Everyone, Every,’ focused on creating hearthealthy environments by ensuring that everyone has the chance of making healthy heart choices wherever they live, work and play.
It is disturbing that while Western countries have appreciably raised awareness and succeeded in reducing the prevalence of heart disease among their populations in the last 15 years, the same cannot be said of Nigeria and subSaharan Africa as a whole where the incidence of elevated blood pressure is ranked at about 46 percent. Recent reports show that about 41 percent of Nigerians have hypertension, up from 11 percent in 1997. To make it worse, many of them are not aware of their condition. Hypertension is not called ‘the silent killer’ for nothing. It sets in and gradually damages a person’s organs without his or her realising it until it is too late.
While some patients may be lucky to notice signs of discomfort when high blood pressure sets in, others may not be so fortunate. This accounts for the rising cases of cardiac arrest and sudden deaths in the country. The situation is made more worrisome because while hypertension was previously associated with older people, especially those above 60 years, it has recently become common among the under-40s. It also used to be regarded as the ‘rich man’s disease’ but today the reverse is the case as even poor folks are not spared by it.
Health experts identify high salt intake as a major risk factor. Obesity is another risk factor as it creates additional burden on the heart. Stress is yet another critical factor as it causes the release of hormones into the blood which trigger the heart to beat faster and constricting blood vessels to get more blood to the core of the body instead of extremities.
The good news however is that the World Heart Federation says at least 80 percent of premature deaths around the globe from cardiovascular disease could be avoided if four lifestyle changes are made. These are doing away with tobacco smoking, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol. The World Health Organisation [WHO] has set a 2025 target to reduce cardiovascular and other noncommunicable diseases by 25 percent. It stresses that every Nigerian should be concerned about hypertension as more blacks suffer from the condition than whites, partly because blacks handle salt a bit differently.
Nigerians need to be more proactive in reducing the scourge of heart disease and stroke. From individuals through to employers, health care professionals, advocacy groups and governments at all levels, all must act urgently and decisively in taking steps to implement strategies that can help reduce the menace of hypertension. Awareness campaigns have to go beyond the annual commemoration of World Heart Day, the world’s biggest intervention against cardiovascular disease. Public health facilities should be improved and funding for health care initiatives increased by the government, donor agencies and development partners.
Government in particular has to be in the vanguard of the fight against hypertension in fulfillment of its constitutional responsibility of providing effective health care for the citizenry. It should adopt proven methods and channels to reach out to different segments of the society. It is also imperative that individuals give their health greater priority by going for regular medical checks, which would help those diagnosed of hypertension to start managing the disease early. It will be helpful if health care professionals start educating all patients they come in contact with during consultations, on their blood pressure levels rather than waiting until a patient’s blood pressure rises alarmingly before offering clinical counselling.