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 in Africa and the world. It is also the most common cardiovascular risk factor in Africa, with one in every three adult 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 are not aware, leaves millions untreated and can be considered a ticking time bomb," Dr Anders Barasa, the Research Lead and Consultant Cardiologist at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, said.
Barasa said this year’s World Hypertension Day and May Measurement Month, themed ‘#Checkyourpressure’ or in Kenya ‘#pimapressure’, aims to increase high blood pressure awareness and screenings.
“With increasing urbanisation and wider availability of processed foods, a lifestyle transition is taking place. Tastes and preferences of foods are changing rapidly," he noted.
"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."
He added that high-calorie diets and those high in refined carbohydrates such as soft drinks, are catalysts of developing hypertension.
This is coupled with obesity where 38 per cent of Kenyans are overweight for lack of physical activity and high salt intakes, conditions that worsen the situation.
Barasa advised that the healthcare system focus on subsidising the cost of treating hypertension in public hospitals, where people pay around Sh200 per month.
However, without awareness, untreated cases may not be identified.
Hypertension often shows no symptoms, which makes it harder to convince patients to seek treatment.
In such cases, especially among those from poor resource settings, a case of balancing between basic needs and seeking healthcare is often not enough an incentive for treatment.
To mitigate this, the government’s universal healthcare coverage plan hopes to have the National Hospital Insurance Fund cover chronic lifestyle diseases, including hypertension, which have already taken a huge toll on family expenditure.
During this May Measurement Month, Aga Khan University Hospital will conduct a series of free screenings in areas including the main university hospital.
The screenings will also take place at City Market, Parklands, Githurai grounds, Green Span Mall, Komarock, Capital Centre, Prestige Mall, Juja Mall, T-Mall, Buruburu, Kikuyu and Revival Mission Church Kanjeru.