WORLD HEALTH DAY 2013: HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Femi Adebayo is barely twenty eight years old. He was almost in tears when he discovered at a market health fair organized by LEC public school students, his blood pressure was 160/80, a far cry from the normal 120/80 and was at risk of heart failure and stroke.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), High blood pressure (HBP) also known as hypertension affects more than one in three adults worldwide and accounts for more than nine million deaths yearly. The proportion increases with age, from 1 in 10 people in their 20s and 30s to 5 in 10 people in their 50s. Statistics also show that 80 per cent of non-communicable deaths occur in low and middle-income countries in Africa, with over 40 per cent of adults in many African countries thought to be affected.
In Nigeria, greater attention has been focused on tackling infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV with minimal attention on non-communicable diseases like high blood pressure. This has led to negligence by its citizens in observing routine medical check-ups to monitor the risk factors (stress, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, overweight, tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption) associated with non-communicable diseases.
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) marked its 67th anniversary on April 7, 2013 it called global attention to high prevalence of high blood pressure in the world. The ultimate goal of world health day 2013 is to reduce heart attacks and strokes through greater awareness, healthy behaviours, improved detection, and enabling environments around the world. In this light, the campaign messages focused on the diagnosis, prevention and control of high blood pressure, as a means of reducing the number of people affected, both now and in the future.
On the other hand, LEAP Africa, a Lagos based non-governmental organisation has initiated projects addressing high blood pressure through student beneficiaries of its Leadership, Ethics and Civics (LEC) Programme in public secondary schools. The LEC is one of LEAP Africa’s core leadership programmes that train secondary school students across Nigeria to become change agents and leaders in their immediate communities. Engaged in a curriculum designed to equip and empower students to carry out community projects, the LEC students gain leadership, soft skills to successfully implement these projects.
Contributing to the diagnosis and prevention of high blood pressure, student beneficiaries of Immaculate Heart Comprehensive Senior High, Maryland, Ikeja organized free blood pressure check and treatment for traders in Onigbongbo market of Maryland, Lagos in collaboration with community chiefs, religious leaders and the Local Council Development Authority (LCDA).
Free tests were carried out by medical practitioners from the state teaching hospital LASUTH. As petty traders, they also benefitted from free counseling on the importance of regular medical checks and HBP medications. Given the impact of the project, the Health fair became a yearly exercise since 2010, reaching 68 micro business owners dealing in consumable goods. Femi Adebayo is a petty trader in Onigbogbo market in Ikeja, Lagos who benefitted from the health fair in 2010. He is grateful for the timely intervention of the LEC students in saving from advanced health implications of HBP which includes strokes and heart failure.
In 2011 in Edo State, students of Edokpolor Grammar School implement a similar project. They organized free medical checkups for older citizens in the community in partnership with WHO (World Health Organization) officers. As a result of this outreach, 50 individuals -25 local community chiefs and 25 other community people were diagnosed of high blood pressure and we referred to State clinic for urgent treatment. This outreach created awareness in the community and reiterated the importance of routine medical checkup especially for older people.
Contrary to general belief that LEAP Africa does not support health programmes, some youth alumni of its Youth Leadership Programme (YLP) have initiated, supported health related projects in various locations in Nigeria. The projects range from Anti-Malaria campaign, HIV awareness, prevention and support and Safe Motherhood.
It is hoped the campaign against high blood pressure will encourage more adults to check their blood pressure and prompt health authorities in nations to provide affordable blood pressure measurement for everyone. Sam Eferaro of National Mirror newspaper in Nigeria reports that under the national health bill which the national assembly is currently revising, “is expected to ensure that some categories of Nigerians receive free health care services from public health establishments.”
The good news is that the high blood pressure is preventable and treatable by reducing salt intake, eating a balanced diet, moderate alcohol consumption, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding tobacco use, regular medical check-ups and high blood pressure medications.
Governments, health workers, civil society, the private sector, families and individuals can act as change agents in addressing high blood pressure and its impact. Things are picking up in Nigeria, according to Dr Kingsley Akinroye of the Nigerian Heart Foundation; the federal government is currently putting together a national policy on non-communicable diseases due to be out later this year and will aid the response to hypertension in the country.
At state levels, the Lagos state government is raising public awareness about hypertension through sponsored advertising in national daily newspapers. Dr. Jide Idris who is the present commissioner for health in Lagos state, says the state is providing diagnosis in public health facilities and some financial means to support the poor people. The state is also investing in pedestrian paths to provide an enabling environment where people can walk without fear of accidents, thus encouraging more physical exercise.