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Tackling the world’s deadliest disease group

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Today, Malawi joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Heart Day. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are said to be the world’s fatal diseases. And the country is struggling to deal with such non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as they have been overshadowed by infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids. JOSEPHINE CHINELE explores more on CDVs.

After 25 years of tobacco smoking, about 57 percent of persons smoking 30 cigarettes per day had died of one type of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) as compared to only 36 percent of non-smokers, World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

CVDs is a term used to describe a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels that includes coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, congenital heart disease and deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

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WHO further says a long-term study of managed 40–59 found a significant connection between tobacco consumption and death by CVD.

WHO information also points out that tobacco use is a universal but avoidable risk factor of these diseases.

That’ is not the only contributing factor though; if you have raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose and you are physically in active and obese, you are a thigh risk of developing CVDs.

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Chairperson for Srinivasa Heart Foundation (India), Dr Srinivas Ramaka, says 31 percent of all global deaths were attributed to CVDs – this equates to roughly 17.5 million deaths. An estimated 7.4 million of these deaths were due to coronary heart disease while 6.7 million were due to stroke.

He says, currently, there are major gaps in affordability and availability of basic health technologies and essential medicines, particularly in low- and middle-income countries like Malawi.

“The lack of access means that patients delay seeking care and either develop complications unnecessarily or pay high out of pocket costs, which can financially devastate households,” Ramaka stressed in his webinar presentation for Citizen News Service (CNS) fellows last week Tuesday.

CNS in collaboration with International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) observes that as is often the case in global health, the poorest are affected the most. More than three quarters of the world’s deaths from CVDs occur in low- and middle- income countries.

It says people in these countries often do not have access to primary health care, which can provide early detection and treatment for people with risk factors. As a result, many people in low- and middle-income countries with CVDs are detected late in the course of the disease, resulting in lower survival rates.

“For both of these economic reasons, early detection and proper treatment are key. By addressing an issue before it arises, both individuals and countries can reduce the cost of treatment and loss of life,” says the brief. Spokesperson for Ministry of Health, Adrian Chikumbe, says non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as a group are the second leading cause of death in Malawi.

“If nothing is done or the communities are not aware of these diseases come 2030, these diseases will become number one leading cause of death,” he says.

Chikumbe tells that for the past 15 years, the infectious diseases overshadowed NCDs and people thought they were diseases of the rich and Western people.

The risk factors such as tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol intake, physical inactivity and poor diet are also applicable to Malawi.

“I f these risk factors are addressed, as a country, we are likely to prevent these diseases. Stop smoking, take alcohol moderately, do physical exercises and have low fat diet. These will help in preventing NCDs,” Chikumbe advises.

He highlights that the ministry is committed in both prevention and management, as the ministry is in the process of training health workers in how they can bring awareness to the communities through Health Education Unit.

According to the ministry, clinicians and nurses are being trained in how to manage NCDs. Over 800 health workers have already been trained in NCD management.

Chikumbe says STEPS Survey done in 2009 showed that 33 percent of adult Malawians had hypertension and 95 percent of those did not know they had the condition.

“I, therefore, urge all Malawians to go for screening for these heart diseases, especially if you are above 40 years, there is a history of these diseases in your family, you smoke, take alcohol excessively and you are obese (Body Mass Index above 30),” he says.

Programme Development Manager for World Heart Federation, Alice Grainger Gasser, says three quarters of the CVD deaths are in low-and middle-income countries, saying CVDs and other NCDs hit the poor harder.

“They kill or disable breadwinners on whom many women and children and other family members depend on. And in most cases, there is no social protection to buffer income loss,” she says.

Sustainable Development Goals NCD specific target aims at reducing by one third premature NCD mortality by 30 percent by 2030.

Today, Malawi joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Heart Day. To celebrate World Heart Day 2016, the World Heart Federation launched a new tool aimed at helping individuals better understand the factors that put them at a higher risk of developing a CVD: the Heart IQ test.

This test is simple and helps individuals explore ways to reduce their risk of developing a CVD.

According to the World Heart Federation, addressing behavioural risk factors can prevent most VCDs.

Unlike other diseases, CVDs affect all race types and genders in nearly equal proportions.

However, CVD does target one group: the aging. As a person gets older, the heart undergoes changes–even in the absence of disease – which makes contracting a CVD more likely.

Controlling risk factors and taking charge of heart health can reduce the chances of heart attack or stroke by more than 80 percent

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