On the eve of World Hypertension Day, which is observed on Monday, experts say the disease is emerging as a major silent killer in Uganda, East Africa.
According to Uganda’s Health Ministry, the disease accounts for an estimated half a million deaths every year. The ministry blamed the deaths on bad eating habits and poor lifestyles.
“Those numbers are certainly saddening, because they could have been easily much lower if the population took necessary steps,” said Dr. Fatma Nakintu, a cardiologist at Uganda’s Mulago National Referral Hospital in the capital Kampala.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also believes that one in three adults in the landlocked country suffers from hypertension and 13% suffer from heart disease.
According to the Ethiopian-based Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one-quarter of deaths due to cardiovascular disease are preventable.
Lifestyle changes urged
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Silence Zuriat, a senior medical scientist working with the Health Ministry, said lifestyle is mainly responsible for rising cases of hypertension.
“Diet plays a significant role in blood pressure. Foods high in cholesterol thicken the blood with fat, and that forces the heart to work harder, thus raising your blood pressure,” she said.
She said the process not only weakens the heart but also blocks enough oxygen to vital organs such as the kidneys, eyes, and liver, causing cell damage.
“Eat a balanced diet. Consume foods that can help lower your cholesterol, like vegetables and grains,” she urged.
She added that lack of exercise and physical inactivity is among risk factors for heart disease. This means that exercising will improve your cardiac performance, making your heart work better, thus lowering blood pressure.”
Scientists say that exercising 30 minutes several times a week is enough to keep hypertension away.
Stress, salt, processed food
Zuriat said that stress is also linked to hypertension, saying that it narrows blood vessels, thereby causing high blood pressure. She said people must learn to manage stress in their daily lives.
“High salt intake also makes people retain more water in your vascular system, and that, too, increases blood pressure”, she said.
Scientists have also recommended that people reduce their intake of processed foods and salt.
She said among younger women, hypertension is associated with their intake of birth control pills.
Uganda’s Health Ministry is working overtime to address the issue of hypertension. Among other measures, in 2019 it founded a commission tasked with documenting cases and identifying gaps in diagnosis and management.
In addition, the ministry has earmarked every other Sunday in July as physical activity day to raise awareness of the importance of physical activity for reducing non-communicable diseases, including hypertension.