•Cases of high blood pressure must be not be allowed to rise further
The findings of a recent survey which concluded that 1.13 billion people are affected by high blood pressure signal an urgent need to confront it with greater seriousness.
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is a non-communicable disease in which the blood pressure in the arteries is persistently above normal levels. By putting increased strain on the body’s major organs like the heart, brain and kidneys, it can lead to stroke, heart failure, and artery and kidney disease.
The study found that the number of people living with high blood pressure had doubled in the 40 years between 1975 and 2015, but that while it had been declining in the developed world, it had increased exponentially in low and middle-income nations in Africa and South Asia. More men are hypertensive globally (597 million) than women (529 million).
As a heavily-populated low-income African country, Nigeria is at the heart of these distressing figures. A University of Edinburgh survey claimed that the country’s hypertension rates were double those of its neighbours, and that one of every three Nigerian men is hypertensive; for their female compatriots, the figure is one in every four. 39 million cases are expected to appear by 2030, up from 20 million cases in 2010.
A toxic combination of lifestyle, economic and environmental factors is thought to be responsible for the country’s predicament. The increase in the consumption of high-fat, high-salt processed foods, the reduced intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as increasingly sedentary jobs have contributed to making many citizens more prone to hypertension. Childhood poverty, which increases the possibility of poor nutrition early in life, may predispose more people to hypertension when they are older. Air and noise pollution could be another contributory factor.
To make matters worse, Nigeria lacks the institutional armour and other defences that enable more developed nations to effectively manage hypertension. Routine blood pressure checks are relatively uncommon; very few Nigerians are covered by health insurance; there is insufficient public education on the dangers of hypertension and the best ways of minimising its negative effects. Even the country’s statistics on the condition are unreliable.
If hypertension is to be properly addressed, it must be confronted with all the seriousness that it deserves. Any comprehensive response must be predicated upon the acquisition of reliable data seeking to understand how hypertension is spread, the most susceptible groups, areas where it is most prevalent, and so on.
A viable next step would be wide-ranging public education and enlightenment campaigns aimed at informing the citizenry of the lifestyle choices and other factors that make it more likely for individuals to develop hypertension.
It is particularly important that Nigerians understand that it is a condition which does not respect ethnic origin, social status, religious affiliation or educational attainment. Another message that must be driven home is the necessity of drastically cutting down on processed foods that are often replete with fat, salt and sugar. Obesity is not a sign of physical well-being; regular exercise is not meant for athletes alone; rest and recuperation are not synonymous with laziness.
An increased screening regimen would ensure that the condition is identified more quickly and treated in good time. One way of achieving this would be to make comprehensive medical examinations a mandatory requirement for all employment, education and extended training programmes, and not just formal employment and tertiary education, as is currently the case.
High blood pressure checks must be complemented by prompt treatment and medication. Increased efforts should be made to ensure that more anti-hypertension drugs are manufactured locally, and that culturally-relevant modes of treatment are developed.
For a country that is already vulnerable to a host of serious diseases, Nigeria simply cannot afford to add hypertension to their number. (The Nation)