Every year, the World Health Organization selects a priority area of global public health concern as the theme for World Health Day.
The theme for World Health Day 2013 is controlling high blood pressure, a condition which affects more than one in three adults worldwide. For millions of people, high blood pressure will lead to fatal heart attacks, debilitating strokes, and chronic heart and kidney disease.
About high blood pressure
High blood pressure – also known as raised blood pressure or hypertension – increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. If left uncontrolled, high blood pressure can also cause blindness, irregularities of the heartbeat and heart failure. The risk of developing these complications is higher in the presence of other cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes. One in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure. The proportion increases with age, from 1 in 10 people in their 20s and 30s to 5 in 10 people in their 50s. Prevalence of high blood pressure is highest in some low-income countries in Africa, with over 40% of adults in many African countries thought to be affected.
However, high blood pressure is both preventable and treatable. In some developed countries, prevention and treatment of the condition, together with other cardiovascular risk factors, has brought about a reduction in deaths from heart disease. The risk of developing high blood pressure can be reduced by:
- reducing salt intake;
- eating a balanced diet;
- avoiding harmful use of alcohol;
- taking regular physical activity;
- maintaining a healthy body weight; and
- avoiding tobacco use.
Goals: Greater awareness, healthy behaviours, improved detection, and enabling environments
The ultimate goal of World Health Day 2013 is to reduce heart attacks and strokes. Specific objectives of the campaign are:
- to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of high blood pressure;
- to provide information on how to prevent high blood pressure and related complications;
- to encourage adults to check their blood pressure and to follow the advice of health-care professionals;
- to encourage self-care to prevent high blood pressure;
- to make blood pressure measurement affordable to all; and
- to incite national and local authorities to create enabling environments for healthy behaviours.
As the world’s population ages and grows, unhealthy behaviours – an unbalanced diet, a lack of physical activity, smoking, harmful use of alcohol – together with stressful lifestyles, all increase the chances of developing high blood pressure. All regions of the world are affected.
High blood pressure is both preventable and treatable. Increasing public awareness is key, as is access to early detection. Countries need systems and services in place to support healthy lifestyles. Access to medicines of good quality, which are effective and inexpensive, is also vital, particularly at primary care level.
This year’s campaign provides an opportunity to focus attention on the prevention and control of high blood pressure, as a means of reducing the number of people affected, both now and in the future, by cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally. They account for approximately 17 million deaths in the world each year.
Complications of high blood pressure, also called hypertension or raised blood pressure, account for more than nine million of these deaths, including about half of all deaths from heart disease and stroke. More than one in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure, with the proportion going up to one in two for people aged 50 and above. The number of people with high blood pressure rose from 600 million in 1980 to 1 billion in 2008.
Behind the statistics is a silent killer that can affect anyone; people often have no symptoms, and many are not even aware of their high blood pressure and the associated health risks. The result is that many go undiagnosed.
Many who are diagnosed do not have access to treatment, or their conditions are poorly controlled. Self-care – meaning actions or behaviours each person can take in his or her daily life – also plays an important role.
There is a social cost to this problem too. In some countries, money spent on cardiovascular diseases alone can be one fifth of the total health expenditure. Yet, millions of people forgo seeking care for high blood pressure in the early stages because they cannot afford it. The results are devastating for both families and health systems: early death, disability, personal and household disruption, loss of income, a diminished workforce, and medical care expenditures take their toll on families, communities and national health budgets.
Early detection and treatment are key, along with public policies and primary health-care services that educate and support people to prevent them from developing high blood pressure, and help those who do have high blood pressure to manage it effectively.