A conscious shift to healthy lifestyle, early detection and treatment are keys to keep high blood pressure in check. A World Health Day special

Dr. Nata Menabde, WHO representative to India, speaks to The Hindu about the growing instances of high blood pressure cases in India and how lifestyle changes and correct government policies can help assuage the situation:

This World Health Day, the WHO is focusing on raising awareness about high blood pressure. What is relevance of the ‘spotlight’ on this disease?

The World Health Day is an annual event where we select a subject which has relevance globally. We are raising the alarm about high blood pressure because it is such a widespread condition which kills nearly 1.5 million people every year in South-East Asia making it the single-most important risk factor for non-communicable diseases like heart attack and stroke. In India alone, we have a growing population of men and women who are getting adversely affected by high blood pressure and diseases that get associated with it.

How was high blood pressure selected as the focus ailment this year?

Hoping to highlight this serious global health issue, in September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the political declaration at the high-level meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, and committed governments to a series of actions. Member states have agreed to nine global targets for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, which include reducing the prevalence of hypertension by 25 per cent by 2025.

What are the socio-economic and health implications of this disease?

High blood pressure comes with the other medical complications including diabetes, strokes, heart attack, kidney problems, etc. What goes against the condition is the fact that it is often under diagnosed and people are not aware of the condition. The economic losses because of the ailment are enormous, besides the health complications and the compromise on the quality of life.

What is the WHO proposing to do by highlighting this disease this year?

We are in dialogue with the Indian government to help it in ensuring that common citizens know about the fact that many of the deaths due to complications arising out of high blood pressure are preventable. A conscious shift to a healthy lifestyle, early detection and treatment are the keys. Hypertension is a silent killer because many people do not realise that they have it or are reluctant to start treatment on time, putting them at risk of complications. High blood pressure is treatable through lifestyle changes. When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, there are medicines which can help. Preventing high blood pressure must be a public health priority and awareness is the key.

Does the emphasis on controlling high blood pressure involve measure to be taken at the micro or family level?

Beside the policies, programmes, swift diagnostics and easy accessibility to medicines, controlling and maintaining a healthy blood pressure can start with having less salt at home. Eating a balanced diet, reducing salt, regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, reducing alcohol intake, monitoring your blood pressure regularly are also important tools. The government has to create an environment where there are enough facilities directed to helping people adopt healthier lifestyles.

What is the WHO planning for countries in terms of prevention and controlling the escalating cases of high blood pressure across the globe?

The WHO is seriously looking at prevention and control of non-communicable diseases worldwide. It is assisting countries to develop national action plans and set national targets to track progress in preventing and controlling such diseases.

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