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Checking the rise in heart disease

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Medical experts have decried the rising cases of heart disease as well as deaths arising from the condition in the country. Speaking on the occasion of this year’s World Heart Day marked on September 29, 2021, they traced the causes to increase in smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and air pollution. According to them, heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, killing about 18.6 million lives yearly, closely followed by cancer.

They also pointed out that 80 per cent of premature deaths arising from heart disease could be avoided if the five main risk factors:  tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and air pollution, are controlled. The experts are also of the view that stress and anxiety, substance use disorder, medications, supplements, herbal remedies and existing heart damage or disease are also contributory to the rising cases of heart disease. In Nigerian, the prevailing economic hardship occasioned by mass poverty, insecurity and job losses can predispose many people to stress and anxiety.

The rise in the prevalence of heart disease in Nigeria is disturbing. It is now said to be the commonest cause of death among adults.  Hypertension, according to reports, afflicts not less than10million adults in Nigeria, a figure that is scary. Sadly, only about one-third of this population is on treatment. Recent studies in Lagos also show that hypertension is the most common underlying disease among COVID-19 infected individuals. The cardiovascular disease has been linked to about 11 per cent of over two million Non Communicable Disease (NCD) deaths in Nigeria annually. It is also responsible for the high rate of disability and morbidity which comes with strokes and heart attacks.  Due to the high cost of treatment of the condition, many sufferers are unable to get adequate medical attention. This is one issue the government must address.

Since the disease is reportedly on the rise, we enjoin the government and other stakeholders to rise to the challenge. In this case, there is urgent need for more public education on the disease, especially the causative factors, prevention and treatment options. The enlightenment campaign on the disease must be taken to all the 774 local government areas. We advise members of the public to live a healthy lifestyle and ensure that they visit a cardiologist at least once in a year for checks.

They should also monitor their blood pressure and blood sugar levels for diabetes. Nigerians should form the habit of seeing their doctors routinely for medical checks, especially those from 40 years and above.  This is the only way they can avert a major health crisis that may lead to death. Considering the brain drain in the health sector, we urge the government to invest more resources towards the training of more cardiologists in the country. With a population of over 200 million people, Nigeria will need the services of more cardiologists both now and in future. In the last 18 months, the Nollywood industry has reportedly lost some actors as a result of heart disease and other related ailments.

We advise Nigerians to avoid lifestyle factors that predispose them to hypertension and other related heart ailments such as tobacco use, binge drinking and others. However, they should embrace healthy living by eating balanced diet, engaging in moderate physical activity and avoiding stress. The government at all levels should work with stakeholders, especially non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in healthy heart advocacy and campaigns, to reduce the incidence in the country. 

Heart disease should be integrated into the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) and the social health insurance benefits of the states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Specialist hospitals for heart care must be established in the six geo-political zones in the country to make heart care accessible and affordable to all Nigerians. Currently, Nigerians travel abroad for the treatment of many heart ailments, which ordinarily ought to be treated in Nigeria.

We want the narrative to change. It is good that the National Health Act of 2020 contains government’s intention to heart health. Let the provisions of the ACT be fully implemented so that the nation can meet the World Health Organisation’s target of 25 per cent reduction of heart diseases mortality by the year 2030.

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