Healthy Heart Africa calls for continued hypertension management

This year, the Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia and Population Services International (PSI)joined forces with AstraZeneca’s Healthy Heart Africa (HHA) program to mark World Hypertension Day (WHD).

This year’s theme ‘Measure your blood pressure accurately, control it, live longer’ aligns with the stakeholders’ call for continued but safe management of hypertension in the country, given the COVID-19 pandemic.The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, are more likely to experience serious COVID-19 sickness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO’s2016 country report states that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Ethiopia are estimated to account for 39% of all deaths in the country. Out of these, 16% are caused by cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). In 2015, a national STEPwise survey revealed that 95%of the study participants had one to two NCD risk factors which gave a forecast of Ethiopia’s potential disease burden. Behavioral risk factors include unhealthy diets such as a low intake of fruits and vegetables, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol use, tobacco use and obesity.

“CVDs linked to hypertension are harder to treat than in cases where elevated blood pressure is identified early, along with appropriate education and prevention measures as well as treatment. This means a cost burden to both the government and individuals who have to pay out of their own pockets,” said Dr Dereje Duguma, State Minister,Federal Ministry of Health.

“Hypertension or high blood pressure is known as a silent killer because it does not present any symptoms. Therefore, early screening for elevated blood pressure and reducing behavioral risk factors is important. Besides the government implementing policies to reduce the burden of NCDs, the Ministry is working with innovative programs such as Healthy Heart Africa to create awareness of hypertension and its risk factors and appreciates the value added by the programs in combating the impact of hypertension in the country.”

AstraZeneca’s HHA program was launched in Ethiopia in 2016,in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health, to help tackle the burden of hypertension and in support of the Government of Ethiopia’s National Strategic Action Plan for Non-Communicable Diseases.

“As we mark World Hypertension Day 2021, we also celebrate our five year partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health and PSI in Ethiopia for the great achievements made so far in the effort to increase awareness and education on lifestyle choices and CVD risk factors, training providers and driving care through the healthcare system, while facilitating access to low cost medicines, where applicable. Since HHA was launched in Ethiopia, up to the end of March 2021, the program has identified over 306,000 elevated blood pressure readings out of an impressive 2.7 million screenings conducted,” said Nebiyou H/mariam, Ethiopia Lead,Healthy Heart Africa.

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, HHA has advised partners to temporarily suspend routine community activities and proposed that they reallocate some of their programme budget towards safety measures and personal protective equipment such as masks, hand hygiene and gloves, to support the safety and well-being of both patients and healthcare providers during the pandemic. Blood pressure screening activities are currently held as part of routine primary healthcare processes in health facilities while adhering to strict COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“One of our three pillars of NCD intervention is to have it incorporate care into the primary healthcare agenda. HHA’s model works by integrating blood pressure screening and management into routine carevi which is in line with the recommendations given for program managers in Ethiopia in the 2015 STEPwise survey, iii saidDr Dorothy Balaba, Country Representative, PSI in Ethiopia.“It is through such collaborative efforts that sustainable interventions in healthcare can be achieved, and this should be recognized and celebrated this World Hypertension Day.”

Since launching in Kenya in 2014 and subsequently expanding to Ethiopia in 2016, Tanzania in 2018, Ghana in 2019, Uganda in 2020 and Côte d’Ivoire in 2021 , the overall program has:

• Conducted over 18.3 million blood pressure screenings in the community and in healthcare facilities
• Trained over 7,600 healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, community health volunteers and pharmacists to provide education and awareness, screening and treatment services for hypertension
• Activated over 900 healthcare facilities in Africa to provide hypertension services, with the establishment of secure supply chains for low cost, high-quality branded antihypertensive medicines, where applicable
• Identified over 3.3 million elevated blood pressure readings