Is Sudden Death On The Rise?


The recent sudden death of Senator Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke, the Ede-born first civilian governor of Osun State, a flashy politician popularly called ‘Serubawon’ (Scare them), has once against got me thinking about how contentious the issue of sudden death can be in this clime.

The fact that Adeleke’s death has become an imbroglio, with a coroner’s inquest set up by the Osun State government to probe his death being regaled with claims and counter-claims of what could have caused the death of the ebullient politician has further emphasised how much suspicion Nigerians have for cases of sudden death. In this part of the world, when someone suddenly dies, without having been obviously sick, it is not uncommon to hear statements like: “They finally got him”, “The enemies have done their worst”, etc.

While I pray for Adeleke’s soul to rest in peace and hope that the Osun State coroner panel will be able to unravel the cause of his death, I must also say that I agree that it will be quite naïve to castigate people who are suspicious of sudden death like this. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that science has made us to know that some deaths that look sudden may not really be that sudden, as most often occur as a result of undiagnosed and untreated ailments.

The fact that it can be safely assumed that every Nigerian must have known at least one person who had suddenly died without apparently being sick is an indication that, perhaps, factors other than witches, wizards or “enemies” are responsible for some sudden deaths.

On 17 May, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the 2017 World Hypertension Day (WHD), which is observed annually to call attention to the devastating effect of this condition and the need for citizens to prevent and control the disease.

One piece of information that caught my attention while perusing published reports on different activities organised in Nigeria to mark the event was a statement from Professor Amam Mbakwem that a recent national multistage survey showed that the prevalence of hypertension in Nigeria is about 30 to 45 per cent.

Mbakwem is a respected professor of cardiology from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). I have had the privilege of interacting with her and I know she is not a flippant talker. Therefore, her warning that hypertension, which has become the most powerful risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, now has a prevalence rate as high as 45 per cent in the country should be taken seriously.

The reason for this is simple.  Hypertension is called a ‘silent killer because it is usually asymptomatic and when left untreated and the blood pressure of the person living with the condition is persistently high, it can result in sudden death. This condition may be the reason we are having series of sudden deaths to Nigerians who looked hale and healthy.

The fact is that there is low awareness for hypertension, despite it being one of the most prevalent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country. Millions of Nigerians living with hypertension do not know because they have never bothered to find out about their blood pressure, let alone think of modifying their lifestyle and/or take medication to manage the condition.

Moreover, the fact that hypertension can affect anyone – the rich or poor, old or young – means that everyone should be interested in monitoring their blood pressure to know when it is high.

This is why the theme of the 2017 World Hypertension Day, “Know Your Number”, is very important. Nigerians must know that high blood pressure, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says is the main risk factor for dying as a consequence of premature cardiovascular event, is the leading cause of disability globally.

Consequently, all Nigerians living with this condition must ‘Know their Numbers’ to enable them take necessary action to control the condition. We must rise up as a nation to tame this silent but raging epidemic. We must stop sudden deaths caused by untreated hypertension.