Health experts warn of rising heart disease cases

Surgeons operate on a patient at the Uganda Heart Institute at Mulago in Kampala on April 17, 2017. PHOTO | RACHEL MABALA

What you need to know:

  • Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally.

Health experts have warned of an increase in cases of heart-related diseases as Uganda joins the rest of the World to celebrate World Heart Day today. 

In an interview with Monitor last week, Dr John Omagino, the executive director of the Uganda Heart Institute, said one in four adults in Uganda have some form of heart disease and one in every 100 babies born has a heart defect.  

“If we are delivering 1.6 million babies per year, it means that at least 160,000 babies are born with heart diseases. Other rheumatic heart diseases are responsible for almost 300,000 children with damaged hearts and it is the biggest cause for the need for valve replacement among the youth,” he said.  

He added: “Heart diseases contribute to more than nine percent of all total deaths in the country. When we add all non-communicable diseases, it is almost overtaking Malaria at 40 percent.” 

This year’s theme for the World Heart Day is ‘Use heart for every heart’ created to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease (CVD). 

Heart disease refers to a variety of conditions that affect the heart, from infections to genetic defects and blood-vessel diseases.    

CVDs are the leading cause of death globally, killing an estimated 17.9 million people per year, a figure which represents 32 percent of all global deaths. Of these, 85 percent were due to heart attack and stroke.

Dr Charles Oyo, the commissioner of non-communicable diseases at the Ministry of Health, said CVDs are the biggest causes of death in Uganda and in low and middle-income countries. 

Some of the most prevalent CVDs in Uganda are hypertension, stroke and heart diseases, among others.
“They contribute a lot to heart failure,” he said.

Dr Oyo said CVDs are mainly caused by physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet such as food with high sugar content or too much salt. 

“All of these contribute significantly in terms of increasing cholesterol levels in the blood. These cholesterols are deposited inside the blood vessels including the blood pressure supplying the heart,” he said.

He added: “This means each time the heart is trying to pump blood, it has to work excessively hard to pump blood through a very narrow tube to deliver oxygen and that causes the problem to the heart.”  

Dr Oyo added that excessive consumption of alcohol in addition to other risk factors including stress when put together contributes to a number of heart diseases.  

But, the Executive Director of Uganda Non-Communicable Disease Alliance, Mr Christopher Kwizera, wonders whether the availed statistics reflect the actual problem on the ground, saying many cases are not captured when it comes to non-communicable diseases. 

“In this country, every Ugandan adult knows a person who has suffered from a non-communicable disease. Either someone who has died or one who is grappling with it,” he said.

He added: “A lot is still required by the government in research to collect accurate data on non-communicable diseases as a basis for planning. Short of that, we will always have plans that are not guided by actual data and facts.”

He also called for increased screening for non-communicable diseases. 
On prevention, Dr Oyo called for modification of lifestyles by eating healthy foods and doing exercises for 30 minutes per day. 

Mr Kwezira called for the enforcement of laws against use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs, among others.

He added that every newborn baby should be examined by health professionals to ensure early detection of the disease.
He also urged the government to equip health facilities at referral levels to handle such cases 

Meanwhile as an intervention measure, the Uganda Heart Institute has developed a comprehensive team with the capacity to offer accurate diagnoses by international standards. Dr Omogin said up to 95 percent of cases are now managed at the institute with no need to send someone abroad. 

He, however, acknowledged limited infrastructure as a hindrance to service delivery. 

Dr Omogin called for the establishment of more units, adding that CVD services should be spread to all regional referral hospitals.


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