By Attila Kulscar
This World Health Day, 7 April, will see doctors, students and army medics join older people's campaign groups around the world in a push for greater awareness of high blood pressure – also known as hypertension or raised blood pressure.
The theme for World Health Day 2013 is controlling high blood pressure, a condition which affects more than one in three adults worldwide. For millions of people, high blood pressure will lead to fatal heart attacks, debilitating strokes, and chronic heart and kidney disease.
As the world's population ages and grows, unhealthy behaviours – an unbalanced diet, a lack of physical activity, smoking, harmful use of alcohol – together with stressful lifestyles, all increase the chances of developing high blood pressure.
Shocking survey results on hypertension around the world
Today, we launch the results of a survey of civil society organisations working with older people in 42 countries. The results reveal a shocking global picture of the work which still needs to be done to provide adequate information and screening for this easily treatable condition which affects one billion people around the world.
Among the results were:
- Older people's organisations in 70% of the countries that responded said there was no easily accessible programme of free screening for older people available in their countries.
- 58% of countries said there were no information campaigns about the effects and importance of treatment.
- Only 46% said free drugs were provided to older people for the treatment of high blood pressure – and of those, 70% said these free drugs were not easily obtainable in rural areas.
As a consequence of this information, we are calling for:
- The introduction and improvement of information campaigns about hypertension to encourage people to get their blood pressure tested.
- Free universal screening for all people over 60 for the detection of high blood pressure.
- Free drugs for the treatment of hypertension.
On World Health Day, HelpAge is coordinating Age Demands Action on Health campaigns in at least 26 countries – all calling for better health services for older people, including better provision for dealing with hypertension.
Older people take action for Age Demands Action on Health
(c) HelpAge International In at least six countries mobile clinics will be set up to provide screening and information.
In Gaza, 100 Palestinian medical students will target 40 primary healthcare centres, while trained HelpAge staff will focus on five poorly resourced in the East.
They will be checking the blood pressure of hundreds of older people. A big information campaign will feature radio messages, 3,000 posters in public places and advertising billboards carrying key messages on Gaza's main highways.
In Serbia, army doctors will be joining medical staff from the Red Cross to travel into the mountains to remote villages to check the blood pressure of older residents, recommend treatment and promote awareness about good diet and lifestyle. In Belgrade, hundreds of older people will attend a public discussion on hypertension, its consequences and healthy food habits related to its prevention.
In Kyrgyzstan, medical staff will target older people in 15 rural communities to check for both hypertension and diabetes, while cardiologists will be talking to older people in the capital, Bishkek.
In Sri Lanka, staff and students from the University of Kelaniya's faculty of medicine will join older campaigners to screen for high blood pressure. Campaigners will meet the Minister for Health and Nutrition to discuss the improvement of health services for the treatment of non-communicable diseases.
Hypertension must be tackled urgently
Dr Paul Ong, Health Policy Adviser at HelpAge International, said:
"Current World Health Organization data suggests that more than one in three adults worldwide has raised blood pressure, yet over half of them do not know they have the condition, meaning they are not receiving treatment that could significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke.
"If no action is taken to tackle hypertension and other non-communicable diseases, economic losses stemming from high blood pressure and other non-communicable diseases are projected to outstrip public spending on health in all low and middle income countries for the period encompassing 2011-2025."