Improving cardiovascular health in Nigeria

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The forthcoming 2018 World Heart Day, slated for 29 September, presents a golden opportunity for the Nigerian government and other stakeholders in the health sector to galvanise proactive national action towards stemmming the worrisome incidence of cardiovascular disorders and its attendant catastrophes on the populace.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), which are disorders of the heart and blood vessels, have, in recent years, been subtly but steadily spreading among Nigerians and, except some prompt and pragmatic steps, are taken to address the trend, the nation may soon be plunged into a devastating CVDs epidemic.

As it stands, it will be difficult to find any Nigerian who does not know someone who is hypertensive or has had a stroke or a heart attack. The stark implication is that millions of Nigerians are battling with these conditions. It needs to be pointed out though that the challenge posed by CVDs is not peculiar to Nigeria. As the latest figures from the World Health Organisation show, heart-related conditions are responsible for the death of 17.7 million people every year which is 31 per cent of all global deaths.

What makes the Nigerian situation particularly alarming, however, is that, with the absence of reliable national data and the fact that cardiovascular diseases were previously viewed as more of an issue in developed countries, the Nigerian government does not appear to be giving the issue the attention it deserves. The nation is concentrating so much on infectious disease control while neglecting CVDs. This is a primary reason, aside from dietary and lifestyle issues, why heart conditions continue to be a major cause of mortality in Nigeria.

A recent study conducted by WHO revealed that 46 per cent of adults in the  African region countries are hypertensive. In the breakdown of the statistics, Nigeria, with its huge population, has the highest number of hypertensive adults, followed by Ghana, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe, and Cabo Verde. Indeed, the study specifically cites over 35 per cent adult Nigerians as battling with hypertension.

While the above report may not be conclusive, what is not in doubt is that the mortality rate from stroke, which usually occurs as a result of untreated or poorly managed hypertension, is very high.  Very few people survive incidents of stroke in this clime. In fact, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole revealed last year that 150,000 Nigerians die annually as a result of heart-related diseases like hypertension and warned that the figure was likely to increase to 23 million by 2030, if adequate measures were not taken.

The WHO is worried about the CVD challenge – and so should the Nigerian government and other relevant stakeholders. The global health body in 2016 launched “Global Hearts”, a new initiative to beat the global threat of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes.  The initiative is to protect people from CVDs and help them recover following a heart attack or stroke.

The Nigeria nation must embrace this initiative which is supporting governments to heighten efforts on CVDs prevention and control through three technical packages: tobacco control, salt reduction and strengthening of CVD management in primary health care.  The initiative also aims to train health workers to better deliver tested and affordable measures to protect people from CVDs.

However, beyond this global initiative is the need to scale sup enlightenment campaigns on heart diseases, especially on the importance of lifestyle change, healthy living, regular checkups and management of the heart. Ocassions, such as World Heart Day, offer good opportunities and platforms to execute such campaigns.

The theme of the 2018 World Heart Day: “My Heart, Your Heart” is a call to a collective action by all and sundry to take heart-related issues seriously. All Nigerians must embrace this slogan and its message.

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