Fighting the scourge of hypertension

A new revelation by the Nigerian Heart Foundation that between 30 and 40 per cent of Nigeria’s 211 million people lives with hypertension or high blood pressure is another depressing statistic. Described by the World Health Organisation as a serious medical condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure and can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases, it has become another major national health challenge that requires effective countermeasures.

With over 80 million persons or more affected in Nigeria, the federal and state governments should treat it as an epidemic deserving of their undivided attention.

While commemorating the 2022 World Hypertension Day, the NHF disclosed that high blood pressure prevalence in Nigeria is on the rise, afflicting about 80 million residents. Majority are males and prevalence is higher in the urban areas. Sadly, only a small fraction goes for treatment, highlighting the poor disposition of many Nigerians towards their health. This is dangerous as the NHF said almost one in three adults, or 33.3 per cent of Nigerian adults, is hypertensive.

Alarmingly, experts reveal that only about 23 million of the 80 million afflicted are on treatment. For a disease acknowledged as a “silent killer,” this is ominous. It has to be corrected.

Hypertension is a global scourge. According to the World Heart Foundation, it is the number one risk factor for death worldwide, affecting more than one billion persons globally. It accounts for about half of all heart disease- and stroke-related deaths worldwide. Its danger is multiplied, say experts, by the fact that on its own, it does not produce symptoms, earning it the ‘silent killer’ label.

The WHO says one in four men, and one in five women have hypertension. The burden of this medical condition is felt more pervasively in low-and middle-income countries. This, unfortunately, is where Nigeria belongs.

To reverse this ugly trend, government at all levels should make quality healthcare services accessible and affordable, and provide basic modern amenities to eliminate citizens’ frustrations. Individuals must, even more importantly, take responsibility for their health by going for regular medical check-ups to monitor their numbers and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Based on United Nations projections, life expectancy here hovers around 55.44 years as of 2022, compared to 72.38 in Egypt; 64.68 in Ghana, and 64.63 in South Africa. Suicide rates are rising. Insecurity, featuring terrorism, armed robbery, gangland wars, kidnapping, sectarian violence and rape, has reached an extraordinary level. Hanke’s World Misery Index 2021 rates Nigeria 11th most miserable country, and in the World Happiness Report rankings, Nigeria is rated a lowly 118th among the 146 countries surveyed. Unarguably, Nigerians are deeply traumatised. These factors aggravate hypertension, experts say.

Every level of government must facilitate easy and affordable access to quality health care. The prohibitive cost of anti-hypertensive drugs denies many people medical care. The government must therefore stimulate and subsidise pharmaceuticals production to boost drugs affordability and reduce mortality rate. In the Nordic countries, ranked as the happiest places on earth, governments take responsibility for the well-being of the citizens. Though less endowed with natural resources, these nations have smartly invested in developing their human capital accord priority to the citizens’ well-being for national productivity. Leadership there is accountable to the people.

The national health insurance programmes should be ramped up to cover as many Nigerians as possible. There should be stronger collaboration with private health providers, the insurance industry and investors to provide a strong, resilient health sector that will capture the most vulnerable and provide care for hypertension and other ailments. The current health insurance coverage in Nigeria of around three per cent is too low and cannot engender a healthy citizenry. Out-of-pocket payment for healthcare services has proven to be ineffective and is not conducive for sustaining a productive population.

That Nigerians spend a whopping 101 per cent of their income on food, according to the United Kingdom-based Institute of Development Studies (up from the 56.4 per cent in 2016), explains why many cannot afford to pay for the drugs and treatment. In the US, it is 8.6 per cent. Therefore, the National Health Insurance Authority Bill 2021 recently signed into law by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), must be implemented religiously. With eight years to go, Nigeria should aim at meeting the Universal Health Coverage in line with Goal 3 of the United Nation’s

Nigerians must also take responsibility for and pay attention to their health. The theme of this year’s World Hypertension Day, ‘Measure your blood pressure accurately, control it, live longer,’ is a clarion call on everyone to regularly check their numbers, adopt a decent and healthy lifestyle and embrace wholesome diet modifications.

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