Safeguard your heartbeats

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
Cardio vascular diseases (CVDs) are one of the major chronic ailments that have strongly impacted today’s generation, along with other non communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, hypertension and diabetes. Notably, in over 80% of the cases, the diseases are lifestyle related. Small changes in lifestyle practices and choices could effectively minimize risk factors.

CVDs include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, congenital heart disease and deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

As often, the low and medium income countries tend to carry a higher burden of CVD related deaths. This may not necessarily be due to very high incidence of CVDs in these countries, but also due to the weak health systems and weak economies that hinder general populaces from accessing regular medical check-up for early detection and failure to afford the medical care associated with them.  According to the Programme Development Manager at the World Heart Federation, Alice Grainger Gasser, three out of four deaths related to CVDs are in low and middle income countries. Very often these are premature deaths of breadwinners of families, thereby hampering economic growth and in turn accelerating poverty. This was the case with *Phumzile Dlamini’s 17 years old son Sabelo, who suddenly collapsed in a split second while chatting with friends and posting on social media, and just could not be resuscitated. The medical doctor who attended to Sabelo at the Mbabane Government Hospital explained that Sabelo had succumbed to a myocardial infarction.

In further conversation with Sabelo’s  mother Phumzile, the family had always known that Sabelo had a weak heart, but since the condition was not painful and did not stop him from going about his day to day activities, it was never taken to be serious enough to warrant medical attention. CVD death rates can be reduced by managing the major risk factors, including but not limited to, the following, as shared by the WHO factsheets on CVD:- managing high blood pressure (it is the highest risk factor accounting for over 13% of deaths), reducing tobacco use (it results in 12% of CVD deaths), controlling high blood glucose levels, and increasing physical activity and thereby reducing obesity. It is imperative that great focus is accorded at national, regional and global levels to minimize CVD related deaths. Gasser noted that there must be advocacy for implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Reducing the risk of tobacco will not only significantly reduce the burden of CVDs, but will have multiple other benefits, including improved lung health, all of which we in the long run will boost economic growth.

Further, policies to re-orient health systems and health education towards cardiovascular health and prevention will need to be in place with specific focus on:

  • Early detection and affordable and accessible health services for all as per the Sustainable Development Goals (SDDs)
  • Improving exercise culture, by making small but big impact changes, including roads with side walk paths and cycling path and incorporating physical education in schools and workplaces.
  • Influencing general population’s diet, by flooding the markets with heart healthy foods and diet education.
  • Strict controls on tobacco use as well high costs for tobacco trading to minimize growth of the industry

In essence, interventions to improve our health has to become a state priority and the general population cannot be left to their own devices. Failure to do so is fast becoming a political suicide.

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
October 17, 2016