Silent killer

It was scary to learn the other day that high blood pressure may account for more than 13 percent of premature deaths around the world.

An article in the The Lancet medical journal wrote that researchers found that in 2001, the latest year for which complete global data were available, around 8 million early deaths could be attributed to high blood pressure.

Hypertension was also claimed to be responsible for 54 percent of strokes and 47 percent of heart disease worldwide.

I have always thought high blood pressure was principally a problem in high income western countries. But the latest findings show that 80 percent of deaths linked to high blood pressure now occur in the developing world, with half of the fatalities among people of working age.

According to The Lancet article writers little substantive or sustained effort has been made to address an issue that has probably killed over 50 million people in the past decade, disabled many more, and taken billions of dollars from already fragile economies.

However, there is hope on the horizon. Both the WHO and World Bank have now highlighted the importance of chronic disease as an obstacle to economic development. They recommend action to control the huge epidemics of cardiovascular diseases already affecting Asia and South America and threatening other regions, including Africa.

The Lancet writers noted global expenditure on antihypertensive treatment is around €50 billion each year, more than 90 percent of which is spent in high-income countries, where the main debate about access concerns the provision of care to very-low-risk individuals. Middle-income and low-income regions have a five times greater burden of disease than do high-income regions, with access to less than 10 percent of the global treatment resource.

Keep on rocking, Dave

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