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The struggle for hypertension in South Africa

Tackling hypertension nationally and globally will require innovative thinking that looks at the condition as a socio-economic and systemic issue.

Today, 16 May, is World Hypertension Day.  This day comes at the time where an imploding epidemic of chronic non-communicable diseases is threatening national healthcare systems sustainability and the economy of the country. Last year an estimated 42% to 54% of South Africans were suffering from hypertension and this figure is expected to increase exponentially. 

A study by Wits University scientists revealed that South Africa has the highest prevalence of hypertension in southern Africa, as well as the largest number of people whose blood pressure is still not controlled, even while on treatment.

Socio-economic perspective

Risk factors for hypertension are a family history of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure in pregnancy, and a poor diet with excess alcohol, sugar and salt.

The current perspective of looking at addressing hypertension from a public health lens is deeply problematic.  The prevention and control of hypertension require strategic and innovative approaches that look at hypertension from a socio-economic perspective and response.

There is a need for models that address the roles of healthy public policy, healthy living environments, healthy communities, reorientation of health service delivery towards prevention and management of chronic illness. Support for improving clinical decisions, empowerment of communities to prevent and self-manage chronic disease and information systems to track the impact of interventions will also go a long way.

Strategic approaches

There is a need for enhancing strategic approaches to the prevention and control of hypertension, as a national and global socio-economic issue. This day must serve as a call to action for broad-based efforts to improve hypertension awareness, treatment, and the proportion of patients treated and controlled in South Africa.

It is therefore for this reason that the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) has undertaken to strive for the empowerment of all those who live in South Africa to make healthy food and lifestyle choices to prevent obesity and non-communicable diseases.

HEALA will continue to campaign and advocate for progressive policies and regulations that promote and protect health, dignity and lives of all people living in South Africa. These include campaigning and advocating for 20% Health Promotion Levy (HPL) on sugary drinks, effective Front of Package Labelling on food with excess salts, sugar and fat and protecting children from advertising of unhealthy food and beverages.

Health-e News is a media partner of the Healthy Living Alliance.

An edited version of this story was published by IOL’s  Voices 360.

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