By Mychelle Farmer, MD, Jhpiego Senior Non-Communicable Disease Advisor
In advance of World Hypertension Day on May 17, PSI and Jhpiego have teamed up to bring awareness to the tremendous cost of hypertension to low- and middle-income countries. Together with several other international and local NGOs, the organizations are working to implement Healthy Heart Africa, a project funded by AstraZeneca that will get prevention, screening and treatment tools into the hands of 10 million people suffering from hypertension in the developing world by 2025. This piece is the first in a series of four.
Ever since I worked in rural Haiti as a medical student, I have associated heart disease and maternal health crises with one another. There I learned firsthand about pre-eclampsia, a condition during pregnancy characterized by elevated blood pressure (hypertension) and protein loss in urine. If undetected and unmanaged, these conditions can progress to eclampsia and present serious risks to the mother and her baby. According to recent data from the World Health Organization, hypertension in pregnancy accounts for 14% of all maternal deaths during pregnancy and the postpartum period, making it one of the most common causes of death in women. Pre-eclampsia, which causes 63,000 maternal deaths each year, disproportionately affects women in low- and middle-income countries.
Hypertension and cardiovascular disease continue to threaten the health and well-being of women long after they deliver a child. Women who experience hypertension in pregnancy have a two-fold risk of early-onset heart disease and many will die from complications of heart disease. However, thanks to Jhpiego’s cost-effective interventions, which include timely and appropriate access to magnesium sulfate for treatment of pregnant women with pre-eclampsia, many mothers have a chance for excellent health outcomes.
Jhpiego is also helping to prevent heart disease through its participation in AstraZeneca’s HEALTHY HEART AFRICA program, which integrates hypertension screening and treatment in primary care settings. In partnership with the government of Kenya, this program is being initiated in selected districts in Kenya to improve early detection of hypertension in adults—nearly 40% of adults in Kenya have elevated blood pressure. HEALTHY HEART AFRICA is developing new educational strategies so that more than two million Kenyans will learn about the important link between hypertension and heart disease. The program will also screen more than 750,000 young women and men at increased risk for hypertension and support access to treatment for those needing it.
Jhpiego develops innovative programs to save lives and is embracing the new challenge of promoting heart health in low- and middle-income countries. In collaboration with Kenyan health officials, our work will help lay the foundation for healthy heart programs that will be scaled up and expanded over time. Jhpiego’s involvement with the HEALTHY HEART AFRICA program is part of our commitment to offer evidence-based, effective and low-cost health care solutions to women and their families in low- and middle-income countries.
By providing training and treatment guidelines, HEALTHY HEART AFRICA will help health care professionals recognize factors that predispose women to hypertension and reduce their risk of lifelong complications. Young mothers, such as the ones I saw in Haiti, give their hearts to keep loved ones healthy and secure. It will be up to programs such as HEALTHY HEART AFRICA to ensure that these women adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle so they can have many years of health and many years of loving and caring for their families, because support from a healthy mom is … priceless!
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