Each year on April 7th, the World Health Organization celebrates the anniversary of its founding with World Health Day. The theme for this year’s celebration is high blood pressure — an unappreciated, yet significant global public health epidemic. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, contributes to nine million deaths every year. It is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke, which is the number one cause of death globally: more people die annually from cardiovascular disease than from any other cause. (data: World Health Organization)
Most people would be surprised to learn that one in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure. Moreover, it is not a condition relegated to the wealthy. Prevalence of high blood pressure is highest in some low-income countries in Africa, with over 40 percent of adults estimated to be hypertensive in many African countries.
Several years ago, FHI 360 began to address the considerable prevalence of hypertension in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, for example, we partnered with the Ghana Ministry of Health and the Ghana Police Service in 2011 to launch a pilot program to fight cardiovascular disease. The facility- and community-based prevention and screening program was launched in two sites — Police Hospital, an urban regional hospital in the capital of Accra, and Atua Hospital, a district hospital serving a semirural community.
Approximately 400 clients are now screened every week for risk factors such as obesity, hypertension and heart disease. Counseling and education on healthy eating and lifestyle are provided alongside screening. Clients with elevated risks are prescribed antihypertensive medications and undergo an echocardiogram (if indicated). Between August 2011 and September 2012, nearly 20,000 clients were screened in Atua and Police hospitals. In Atua Hospital, 22 percent of those screened were pre-hypertensive (systolic 120–139, diastolic 80–89) and 33 percent were hypertensive (systolic ≥140, diastolic ≥90). In Police Hospital, 42 percent of clients were pre-hypertensive, and 32 percent were hypertensive.
Our experience in Ghana and other countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia, reinforces the World Health Organization’s call for increased advocacy, resources and action to address the significant unmet need to control blood pressure worldwide. And we must not stop with high blood pressure. It is time to ensure that evidence-based, integrated and multi-sectoral approaches to reduce all noncommunicable diseases become a priority.