The first-of-its-kind, comprehensive analysis finds that currently, only one in five individuals with hypertension has their condition under control. Strengthening hypertension control programmes is crucial.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently unveiled a first-of-its-kind report highlighting the devastating global impact of high blood pressure, a pervasive health issue often referred to as the “silent killer”. The maiden comprehensive analysis of hypertension sheds light on key findings and offers vital recommendations to combat this health crisis.
Hypertension, characterised by elevated blood pressure levels, affects a staggering one in three adults across the globe. It is responsible for a host of life-threatening conditions, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage, and various other health problems. The report reveals that the number of individuals grappling with hypertension doubled between 1990 and 2019, soaring from 650 million to a staggering 1.3 billion.
A humungous challenge
Shockingly, nearly half of those suffering from hypertension worldwide are unaware of their condition. Moreover, over three-quarters of adults with hypertension reside in low- and middle-income countries. While factors like ageing and genetics can elevate the risk of high blood pressure, certain modifiable risk factors, such as a high-salt diet, a lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol consumption, also contribute to this global health crisis.
Fortunately, lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthier diet, quitting tobacco, and increasing physical activity, can significantly lower blood pressure. In some cases, medication may be necessary to effectively control hypertension and prevent associated complications, states the report.
The prevention, early detection, and management of hypertension are among the most cost-effective interventions in healthcare. The WHO report urges countries to prioritise these measures as part of their national health benefit packages, particularly at the primary care level. The economic benefits of improved hypertension treatment programmes far outweigh the costs, with an estimated 18-to-1 return on investment, states the report.
Currently, only one in five individuals with hypertension has their condition under control. Strengthening hypertension control programmes is crucial. These programmes should be integrated into every country’s pursuit of universal health coverage, and should be built on well-functioning, equitable, and resilient health systems anchored in primary healthcare.
Call for global action
WHO’s HEARTS technical package for cardiovascular disease management in primary healthcare, along with the Guidelines for the Pharmacological Treatment of Hypertension in Adults, provides practical steps for delivering effective hypertension care. Countries should leverage these proven interventions to implement community- and country-wide blood pressure management programmes, states the report.
To enhance hypertension control and overall noncommunicable disease (NCD) management, governments should establish national mechanisms. A key component of these mechanisms is a national steering committee, led by the Ministry of Health, tasked with overseeing resource allocation and the integrated response to NCDs, with a specific emphasis on hypertension control. The committee should include representatives from both the governmental and non-governmental sectors, including clinicians dedicated to improving primary healthcare-based hypertension management.
Regular progress monitoring is crucial for accountability. National targets and indicators should be set, ideally on a quarterly or annual basis. These indicators must encompass the number of hypertensive patients achieving their blood pressure control targets, reported as a proportion of the estimated total hypertensive population. Ensuring full financial support for national policies addressing hypertension is imperative to translate these policies into practical actions effectively.
Addressing broader healthcare system factors is also critical, such as ensuring an adequate number of trained healthcare staff at all levels, sustainable financing, enhanced information systems, expanded services, and strengthened national capacity for data collection and analysis. These measures collectively empower healthcare systems to optimise hypertension control programmes and improve patient care.
The WHO report on hypertension underscores the urgent need for a global commitment to address hypertension. With concerted efforts, including the prioritisation of hypertension control, the expansion of proven interventions, and global commitment, it is possible to prevent millions of deaths and significantly reduce the burden of stroke, heart attacks, and heart failure between now and 2050.
You can read the full report here.