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

fifth_birthdayFor the first time ever, child mortality rates have plummeted below the 6 million mark, finally less than half of what they were in 1990 at 12.7 million.

While this number demonstrates a significant achievement towards global progress for the United Nations, this 53% decrease has not met the Millennium Development Goal of a two-thirds reduction set to occur between 1990-2015.

With 16,000 children under 5 still dying each day, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta believes the challenges to saving these children must be met full-force.

“But the far too large number of children still dying from preventable causes before their fifth birthday – and indeed within their first month of life – should impel us to redouble our efforts to do what we know needs to be done. We cannot continue to fail them,” said Gupta in a World Health Organization (WHO) article.

Recognizing when children are most vulnerable is a necessary means of counteracting the cycle. This time of vulnerability has been determined to occur within the period at or around birth, with 45% of under-5 deaths happening within the neonatal period, which is the first 28 days of life.

Issues such as prematurity, pneumonia, complications during labor and delivery, diarrhea, sepsis and malaria are all leading causes of death for children under 5 years old, and it is here where improvements can begin.

In fact, nearly half of all under-5 deaths are associated with undernutrition. However, with the appropriate interventions, most of these occurrences are preventable.

For example, just by focusing on sub-Saharan regions which experience the highest levels of under-5 mortality rates in the world (with 1 in 12 children dying before their fifth birthday), these numbers can be vastly reduced.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General at WHO, ensures we possess the knowledge to reduce newborn mortality.

“We know how to prevent unnecessary newborn mortality. Quality care around the time of childbirth including simple affordable steps like ensuring early skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and extra care for small and sick babies can save thousands of lives every year,” she said.

Although many countries have already made incredible progress in reducing their number of child mortality rates, further progress must be made in the hopes of making sure all mothers and their children are ensured proper care by 2030.

Fortunately, it is through initiatives like the Global Financing Facility, in Support of Every Woman Every Child, which focus on “smarter, scaled and sustainable financing” that the UN is able to support and enable countries with the resources they need to “deliver essential health services and accelerate reductions in child mortality.”

With these programs in place, there is great potential for many more fifth birthdays to come.

– Nikki Schaffer

Sources: Child Mortality World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr

Embrace Infant Health in the Developing World

The Embrace infant health “sleeping bag” is an innovative, low-cost baby warmer, engineered for at-risk babies in developing countries. Around the world over 20 million low-birth-weight and premature babies are born every year, in the right environment, these babies can still thrive. However, in impoverished areas without resources or in turmoil, these babies are at risk of dying – and over four million will die within their first month of life. Amazingly, just keeping these newborns at the right temperature can be the difference between life and death.

The design of the Embrace incorporates materials that will stay a constant 98.6F, the critical temperature for a newborn’s survival. After being heated via any AC power source, the “WarmPak” inside the wrap traps the heat and then slowly releases it for up to 6 hours, keeping the “microclimate” inside the Embrace perfect for healthy development. Under normal conditions, a baby’s body temperature can be maintained through basic contact with the mother, but sometimes this is not always an option. Particularly for women who are working and/or caring for other children, who may be recovering from a traumatic birth, and those in disaster-relief and post-conflict settings.

The biggest problem these pre-mature babies face is hypothermia, when they cannot regulate their own body temperature and cannot stay warm. Average room temperature for these tiny bodies actually feels freezing to them. Those that can survive even without proper care will often develop life-long problems like diabetes, heart disease, and low IQ. Simply keeping a baby warm can save its life immediately and allow proper development in the long term.

– Mary Purcell