On 30th September, this year’s World Heart Day, the increase in recent times, of confirmed and suspected cases of cardiac arrests, heart attacks, strokes and other heart-related disorders came into sharp focus. Heart disorders are making a steady and deadly rise in Nigeria. Everyday, we read reports of persons “slumping and dying”.
The development is not unconnected with increasing number of persons diagnosed with heart failure – a final common pathway of various heart problems. Heart failure is a complex disease where the heart develops difficulty to relax and contract to distribute blood.
The risk factors of heart disease are well known. Some are preventable because they are tied to behaviours such as tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, being overweight and obese, elevated blood pressure, blood cholesterol and diabetes.
Hypertension and diabetes are medical conditions that can lead to heart failure if untreated or badly managed. The problem is made worse when people are not aware of the necessity for, or unable to afford, regular blood pressure and blood sugar checks.
Data from teaching hospitals across the federation reveal that 20-30 per cent of admissions are related to heart failure. This is bad news considering that the nation’s health sector is lacking in capacity and the required human and financial resources to prevent and treat heart diseases and the attendant risk factors
Cardiologists say when compared to Caucasians, Nigerians have weaker hearts. For instance, a blood pressure reading of 150/90 could send a Nigerian into heart failure because the heart is already weighed down by chronic infection, stress, malnutrition and other factors. But it would take a blood pressure reading of 240/150 to get a heart failure diagnosis for the Caucasian.
No doubt, the alarming increase in cases of heart failure and related illnesses calls for better government policies and more active citizen awareness. There is a need to institute comprehensive health education to increase awareness of the major risk factors for heart diseases and strokes and also to sensitise the population to the signs and symptoms of major cardiovascular diseases.
Revamping the nation’s health sector to provide long-term chronic care is very crucial. The concept of on-going care to identify, monitor and treat risk factors at the primary health care level is key as these conditions often remain undiagnosed and untreated until they result into fatal consequences.
To ensure that the largest number of Nigerians can access care regardless of their socioeconomic status, care needs to be provided at local health centres with the appropriate medications and equipment to diagnose, treat and monitor the conditions.
Without a robust basic emergency care system and tertiary level care including necessary drugs and technology, we will continue to lose our people needlessly.