WHO’s First Report on Hypertension Reveals its Global Impact and Strategies for Prevention

The World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled its inaugural report highlighting the profound worldwide repercussions of high blood pressure, coupled with recommendations for curbing this insidious health threat. The report sheds light on a stark statistic: approximately 4 out of 5 individuals with hypertension are not receiving adequate treatment. However, by expanding healthcare coverage, it’s projected that between 2023 and 2050, a staggering 76 million lives could be spared.

Global Prevalence of Hypertension

Hypertension, affecting one in three adults across the globe, represents a common yet perilous health condition linked to severe outcomes such as stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage, and various other ailments.

Between 1990 and 2019, the number of individuals living with hypertension (defined as a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher or undergoing hypertension medication) doubled, soaring from 650 million to a staggering 1.3 billion. Alarmingly, nearly half of those afflicted remain unaware of their condition, with over three-quarters of adult hypertension patients residing in low- and middle-income nations.

While advancing age and genetics may elevate the risk of high blood pressure, modifiable factors like excessive salt consumption, physical inactivity, and alcohol overindulgence also contribute to its onset.

Prevention and Management

Lifestyle modifications, encompassing healthier eating, tobacco cessation, and increased physical activity, offer practical means to lower blood pressure. In certain cases, medication becomes essential to effectively control hypertension and avert related complications.

The prevention, early detection, and efficient management of hypertension stand as some of the most cost-effective healthcare interventions. These should be prioritized within countries’ national health offerings at primary care levels. Encouragingly, improved hypertension treatment programs yield economic benefits that outweigh costs by a remarkable 18-to-1 ratio.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasizes the need for comprehensive hypertension control programs: “Hypertension can be controlled effectively with simple, low-cost medication regimens, and yet only about one in five people with hypertension have controlled it. Hypertension control programs remain neglected, under-prioritized, and vastly underfunded.”

Tackling Hypertension Globally

The report’s release coincides with the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, addressing global progress toward Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to healthcare. Enhancing hypertension prevention and control is integral to achieving these objectives.

Implementing effective hypertension care can prevent an astounding 76 million deaths, 120 million strokes, 79 million heart attacks, and 17 million cases of heart failure by 2050.

Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries, highlights the potential for saving lives and billions of dollars annually through primary healthcare-based hypertension treatment: “Treating hypertension through primary healthcare will save lives, while also saving billions of dollars a year.”

Accessible Hypertension Management

Efficient hypertension management, even in countries with varying income levels, is attainable. Over 40 low- and middle-income countries, including Bangladesh, Cuba, India, and Sri Lanka, have bolstered hypertension care using the HEARTS package, benefiting over 17 million people. Nations like Canada and South Korea have implemented comprehensive national hypertension treatment programs, surpassing the 50% mark for blood pressure control among hypertensive adults.

These sustained, systematic initiatives demonstrate that national hypertension control programs can be effective, resulting in fewer strokes and heart attacks and longer, healthier lives.

WHO’s Recommended Components for Effective Hypertension Care

  1. Protocol: Streamlining care through practical, dose- and drug-specific treatment protocols with clear action steps for managing uncontrolled blood pressure.
  2. Medication and Equipment Supply: Ensuring regular, uninterrupted access to affordable hypertension medications to enhance treatment.
  3. Team-Based Care: Collaborative efforts among healthcare professionals to adjust and intensify blood pressure medication regimens in line with protocols.
  4. Patient-Centered Services: Overcoming barriers to care through easily manageable medication regimens, free medicines, local follow-up visits, and accessible blood pressure monitoring.
  5. Information Systems: Employing user-friendly information systems that facilitate rapid recording of vital patient data, reduce healthcare worker data entry efforts, and support scalable, quality care.

Dr. Tom Frieden, President & CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, underscores the urgency of global commitment to hypertension care: “Every hour, more than 1,000 people die from strokes and heart attacks. Most of these deaths are caused by high blood pressure, and most could have been prevented. Good hypertension care is affordable, within reach, and strengthens primary health care. The challenge now is to go from ‘within reach’ to ‘reached.’ This will require the commitment of governments worldwide.”

Learn more about the global impact of high blood pressure and the HEARTS package to control it here.

Read the full report here.

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