A recent study published by the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa has shown that hypertension is steadily becoming a health problem in Africa, claiming that East Africa has hypertension rates as high as 25 per cent.
The report claims that hypertension is a critical health problem in Africa, and while East Africa has lower levels of hypertension compared to the rest of the continent, we could be in the early phases of an epidemic, especially as people gain more access to fast foods, and live more sedentary lifestyles.
Hypertension, is a major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke, and this increase is attributed to the growing number of fast food chains opening shop in Kenya, coupled with sedentary lifestyles that have become commonplace in major towns.
Normal blood pressure is defined as 120/90 mmHg, and one is considered hypertensive when their blood pressure reaches 140/90 mm Hg. If one has a blood pressure of more than 160/100 mmHg, they are considered severely hypertensive.
In the latest data from the Ministry of Health in the Kenya STEPwise Survey for Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Factors, 56 per cent of Kenyans have never been measured for raised blood pressure. Furthermore, among those who reported to have been previously diagnosed with hypertension, only 22.3 per cent were currently on medication prescribed by a health worker.
This data was obtained from a survey of 6,000 individuals, factoring in national estimates by sex (male and female) and residence (urban and rural areas).
The report shows that eight percent of Kenyans in the 40-69 age group have a cardiovascular disease risk of 30 percent or above, with only 6.2 percent of them currently receiving drug therapy and counseling to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
The report further states that 8 people out of every hundred suffered from severe hypertension, with 23.8 per cent of respondent contacted found to have raised blood pressure.
So, the question is, has the incidence of hypertension reached a critical level in Kenya?
PesaCheck has researched the issue and finds that the statement that hypertension has reached a critical level in Kenya PARTIALLY TRUE for the following reasons:
According to Kenya’s Second National Health Sector Strategic Plan, 6.1% of deaths in the country are linked to cardiovascular diseases, while further studies suggest that more than 13% of deaths among adults could be linked to such diseases.
The survey notes that while the prevalence of hypertension has increased over the last 20 years, only 4% of Kenyans diagnosed with hypertension are receiving effective treatment. In this case, effective treatment means that those with raised blood pressure are put on treatment and medication so that their blood pressure can be been brought under control.
In the Statistical Review of Progress towards the midterm targets of the Kenya Health Sector Strategic plan 2014-2018, Kenya has observed a dramatic increase in obesity, a condition often linked with hypertension and attributed to the same risk factors of sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices. The report shows that the percentage of women with obesity increased from 7 per cent to 13 per cent between 2009 and 2015. This data has since been replaced by the STEPwise survey.
The study found that 27% of Kenyans are either overweight or obese with the percentage being significantly higher in women (38.5 percent) than men (17.5 percent). Additionally, 23% of adults have raised blood pressure. Counties in the Central region and, to a lesser extent, the Eastern region had much higher prevalence of raised blood pressure than elsewhere in Kenya.
In the 2017 Economic Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, heart disease one of the top ten registered causes of death, with almost 26,000 deaths attributed to cardiovascular diseases from 2012 to 2016.
Having raised blood pressure (>140/90 mmHg, or being on medication for raised BP) is one of the five main factors linked to developing cardiovascular disease, along with smoking, being overweight or obese (having a BMI above 25kg/m2), eating less than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, and low levels of physical activity.
Only 3 percent of Kenyans have none of the above risk factors. Among the age group 18-44 years, 10.4 percent have three or more of the above risk factors while among the age group 45 to 69 years, 25.9 percent have three or more of the above risk factors indicating a heightened risk of NCDs and their complications that warrants interventions ranging from awareness, treatment and follow-up.
Therefore, from this data, it can be concluded that Kenya faces a significant risk of hypertension if no intervention measures are taken, particularly for persons aged 45 and above. There are segments of the population facing a significant risk due to factors such as lifestyle and diet, and therefore certain interventions such as awareness, treatment and follow-up need to be introduced as part of a long-term measure to lower the risk of elevated blood pressure overall.
The STEPwise survey report makes a number of recommendations, including the establishment of wellness clinics in public health facilities to encourage early detection and screening of hypertension, which would serve as sources of information for prevention and health promotion.
Therefore, PesaCheck finds that the Wits University’s claim that hypertension is a critical health problem in Kenya is PARTIALLY TRUE. While 23.8% of Kenyans have been identified as having elevated blood pressure, critical hypertension, where the blood pressure is over 160/100 mmHg stands at 8%.
However, the research acknowledges that while East Africa has lower levels of hypertension than the rest of the continent, the data used to determine this may not be representative of the true picture on the ground. As such, there is need for awareness and testing at health facilities throughout the country to obtain a clearer picture of the levels of hypertension in the country, after which appropriate response measures can be initiated.
This report was written by Wahu Wainainah, a Kenyan business journalist with an interest in breaking down data and jargon and covering the hospitality, technology and airline beats. The infographics are by PesaCheck Fellow Brian Wachanga, who is a Kenyan civic technologist interested in data visualisation. The report was edited by PesaCheck Managing Editor Eric Mugendi and and veteran investigative editor and PesaCheck co-founder Catherine Gicheru.
PesaCheck is East Africa’s first fact-checking initiative. It seeks to help the public separate fact from fiction in public pronouncements about the numbers that shape our world, with a special emphasis on pronouncements about public finances that shape government’s delivery of so-called ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ or SDG public services, such as healthcare, rural development and access to water/sanitation. PesaCheck also tests the accuracy of media reportage. To find out more about the project, visit pesacheck.org.