Non communicable diseases (NCDs) in low and middle income countries including Kenya are increasing rapidly. High blood pressure is today the number one risk factor for heart disease and death on the African continent and in the world. It is also the most common cardiovascular risk factor in Africa with one in every three adult Africans being affected.
About 25 per cent of Kenyan adults are suffering from hypertension, a major cause of stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and coronary artery disease.
In Kenya today more than 50 per cent of hospital admissions are due to lifestyle diseases. The fact that a quarter of the Kenyan population has elevated blood pressure but half of these are not aware leaves millions of Kenyans untreated and can be considered a ticking time bomb. As result, this year’s World Hypertension Day and May Measurement Month themed ‘#Checkyourpressure’ or in Kenya ‘#pimapressure’ aim to increase high blood pressure awareness in all populations by mobilising them to get screened.
With the increasing urbanisation and wider availability of processed foods, a lifestyle transition is taking place. Tastes and preferences of foods are changing rapidly. Traditional staples such as legumes and starches rich in fiber and the occasional meat or fish that were previously steamed or boiled are now exchanged with highly processed carbohydrates, meat and fried foods. High-calorie diets and diets high in refined carbohydrates such as soft drinks, are catalysts of developing hypertension.
This is further coupled with obesity where 38 per cent of Kenyans are overweight including lack of physical activity and high intake of salt, conditions that worsen the situation and call for greater awareness to avert elevated blood pressure incidences.
The healthcare system should focus on subsidising the cost of treatment of hypertension in public hospitals where hypertension management can cost around KES 200 per month. However, without awareness, the untreated cases may not be identified. Hypertension often shows no symptoms, which makes it harder to convince patients to adhere to treatment. In such cases, especially among those from poor resource settings, a case of balancing between basic needs and seeking healthcare is often not an enough incentive for them to adhere to treatment.
To mitigate this, the Government’s universal healthcare coverage plan hopes to have National Hospital Insurance Fund cover chronic lifestyle diseases including hypertension which have already to a large extent taken a huge toll on family expenditure.
During this May Measurement Month, Aga Khan University Hospital in response to this unmet need, will conduct a series of free screenings in various areas including the main University Hospital, City Market Parklands, Githurai grounds, Green Span Mall, Komarock, Capital Centre, Prestige mall, Juja Mall, T Mall, Buruburu, Kikuyu and Revival Mission Church Kanjeru.
By Dr. Anders Barasa, Research Lead and Consultant Cardiologist, Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.