Hypertension in South Asia
The Duke Global Health Institute will begin a study this year to find cost-effective ways to fight hypertension in South Asia.

The study will enroll 2,500 people from 30 rural communities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where heart attacks and strokes caused by hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, are major causes of death.

“High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for premature deaths globally,” the study’s lead researcher, Tazeen Jafar said. “The findings from [our study] are likely to provide a roadmap for effective blood-pressure lowering strategies that are sustainable…and have the potential for saving millions of lives and reducing human suffering in South Asia and possibly beyond.”

According to the World Health Organization, 82 percent of premature deaths caused by non-communicable diseases like hypertension occur in developing countries. That’s 28 million deaths per year, and health officials say these deaths are entirely preventable.

Jafar’s study will focus on four strategies. The first is to educate patients about the beneficial effects of diet and exercise on hypertension. In addition to regular weekly exercise, diets high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables while low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and alcohol are considered to be the easiest ways to measurably reduce blood pressure.

His team will also attempt to improve referrals to specialists, train doctors to manage high blood pressure with cost-efficient medication and develop special services at clinics to serve patients with hypertension.

They will then compare their results to traditional health care systems to find out if they can effectively fight hypertension in South Asia within the economic means of patients in developing countries.

Reducing hypertension and other non-communicable diseases will be a priority for policymakers over the coming years, as they work towards achieving the sustainable development goals of the 2030 Agenda.

An economic impact study from the U.S. Institute of Medicine suggested related diseases in Brazil have caused up to $72 billion in productivity loss — a problem that persists because these diseases are passed down between generations. For countries in South Asia facing similar consequences, fighting hypertension-related deaths is more than a matter of public health, it is an economic imperative.

Ron Minard

Sources: Duke University, Mayo Clinic, WE Forum, WHO
Photo: Torange