May 17th of every year is dedicated to raising global awareness for hypertension and promoting its prevention. The disease is said to be one of the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases, morbidity, and mortality in Rwanda.
According to the World Health Organisation, blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood against the walls of the body’s arteries, the major blood vessels in the body. Hypertension is when blood pressure is too high.
Claudine Umulisa a nutritionist at Nutrisante Rwanda, says that hypertension is said to be a silent killer disease, and that is why it can be hard to immediately spot the symptoms or even diagnose them.
“Most people can have blood pressure and not be aware of it, and some even live with it without knowing, that is why everyone is always reminded to get a medical check-up often to at least check if there could be no possibility of having the disease,” she says.
She emphasizes that anyone can get blood pressure depending on their lifestyle or even the sensitivity of their bodies.
“There are people who are more vulnerable, especially those of old age, but it doesn’t mean that other people are insulated. We must therefore be mindful of the lifestyle we lead because virtually everyone is exposed,” she said.
Evariste Ntaganda the cardiovascular disease officer at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says that hypertension is one cardiovascular disease and one of the causes of morbidity and mortality in the country.
The prevalence of hypertension in Rwandans is 15.9 per cent according to Ntaganda, high blood pressure when not screened early can cause heart failure, and stroke, and can affect kidneys, vision, and veins.
Risk factors of hypertension
Umulisa explains that high blood pressure is not a curable disease but a manageable one.
“The reason why this disease isn’t curable is that when a person with high blood pressure changes their lifestyle, meaning if they stop associating with some risk factors that cause it, their blood pressure goes down or lowers, but if they stop managing their lifestyle their blood pressure rises again,” she states.
She says that a poor health diet is among the risk factors that cause high blood pressure.
“There are a lot of risk factors, some being eating too much salt, too many fats and carbohydrates, food that lacks vegetables, obesity and also people that smoke and drink too much are at a high risk of getting high blood pressure”.
Non-modifiable risk factors include a family history of hypertension, age over 65 years, and co-existing diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease.
How is Rwanda set to prevent the disease?
Ntaganda says that RBC has rolled out a number of interventions to help the population prevent hypertension and associated dangers, saying the major one is heightening awareness around risk factors.
“Some of the preventive measures are, maintaining moderate weight; reduction of alcohol intake and tobacco consumption, eating more vegetables in terms of quality and ingesting fewer fats and carbohydrates,” he explains.
Other measures include regular screening for people above 35 years, with aim of minimizing the complications that may arise from high blood pressure if not diagnosed earlier, and also training a big number of medics.
According to WHO (2021), an estimated 1.28 billion adults aged 30-79 years worldwide have hypertension, most (two-thirds) living in low- and middle-income countries.
An estimated 46% of adults with hypertension are unaware that they have the condition. Less than half of adults (42%) with hypertension are diagnosed and treated. Approximately 1 in 5 adults (21%) with hypertension have it under control. Hypertension is a major cause of premature death worldwide.