Revisiting the high burden of NCDs and exploring solutions using technology

Together with cancer, diabetes and lung disease, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 41 million deaths around the world yearly, 18.6 million of which are related to heart disease. In Nigeria, heart disease is responsible for 10% of all deaths, a considerably high number. We will look at some of the reasons for this high cardiovascular incidence in Nigeria, and what could be done to prevent, control and manage cardiovascular diseases in the country.

Several associated risk factors

Hypertension is one of the many risk factors for heart disease. It is estimated that more than one-third of Nigerian adults have high blood pressure as a result of growing urbanisation, physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet and smoking; where an estimated 6.6% of Nigerians between the ages of 15–49 smoke. Diabetes, another NCD, is also a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Nigeria has a high burden of diabetes, with an estimated 5.77% of the population having the disease. Yet another worrying associated risk factor for cardiovascular diseases is the evidence that COVID-19 survivors are at greater risk of developing heart related complications. It could be said that all the major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases are high in Nigeria. These, in addition to poor health-seeking behaviours and poor-quality healthcare services at all levels are the reasons behind the many deaths associated with cardiovascular diseases in the country.

What has been done to reduce risk factors?

In 2015, Nigeria signed the National Tobacco Control Act to limit the use of tobacco in the country. However, seven years down the line, no real progress has been made in its implementation. Good implementation would have a positive impact on the control of tobacco smoking in the country, which would substantially reduce the burden and lower the risks of cardiovascular diseases among Nigerians. Also, the country’s 2013 NCDs strategic plan which aimed to focus on preventing and managing NCDs including cardiovascular diseases at the primary healthcare level through increased awareness campaigns and routine screening for risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity has not been fully implemented. Thus far, there has not been a coordinated approach towards tackling NCDs like cardiovascular diseases in Nigeria. This is a challenge for the federal, state and local governments.

Nigeria’s large population offers an opportunity for these companies to thrive and to explore innovative ways of providing care for chronic conditions like cardiovascular diseases. Innovations that could help people monitor their blood pressure, encourage physical activities, identify symptoms of an impending cardiac event, and alert a responsive cardiac ambulatory care, as well as a directory of consultants in the country, virtual check-up and consultation are some of the possible solutions that could be explored.

For this to be done effectively however, an enabling environment that provides all the necessary support must be provided. The entire process of setting up, running, and expanding digital health enterprises in Nigeria should be made easy and not fraught with the many issues that start-ups sometimes deal with in Nigeria. Technology experts should be supported with the tools and environment to develop their ideas.

Finally, Nigerians should be made aware of the available innovations that could help them improve awareness of cardiovascular diseases, prevent heart disease, and better manage heart conditions. These innovations should be widely accessible and affordable to Nigerians regardless of who they are, where they live or their economic status.

Courtesy: Nigeria Health Watch

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