WHO Initiative to Tackle Cardiovascular Disease in Uganda

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In short
The Global Hearts Initiative aims to scale up measures to reduce salt and tobacco use and strengthen health care services for dealing with cardiovascular diseases which kill more than 17 million people annually.

 A new initiative seeking to beat back the global threat of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes is to be rolled out in Uganda. 

Code-named Global Hearts, the initiative is an alliance between the World Health Organization , the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Heart Federation, the World Stroke Organization, the International Society of Hypertension, and the World Hypertension League.

The project aims to scale up measures to reduce salt and tobacco use and strengthen health care services for dealing with cardiovascular disease.  It will initially be rolled out in Barbados, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Tajikistan, Thailand and Uganda, according to a statement released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

More than 17 million people die annually from cardiovascular disease, making the ailments- the world's leading cause of death. Uganda loses a total of 353,000 people to cardiovascular diseases every year, according to statistics by the World Health Organisation.

Over three quarters of these are a result of unhealthy behaviors, including tobacco use, eating foods containing too much salt and inadequate physical activity resulting into heart attacks and strokes. The WHO records indicate that the probability of dying between ages 30 and 70 years in Uganda, as a result of cardiovascular diseases, stands at 21 percent.

But the country does not have an operational policy or action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, the burden of tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, or even a national population-based cancer registry.  

WHO Director for the Management of Non Communicable Diseases Dr Etienne Krug says countries like Uganda will be supported to scale up tested, affordable and adaptable measures to make their health services better able to detect and treat people at risk of, or suffering from, heart disease.

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Governments will receive technical support required to implement and scale up interventions to reduce blood pressure, and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Specific activities will include establishing demonstration sites in 12 countries, developing salt reduction and tobacco control plans, developing simplified and standardized management protocols and improving access to medicines and technologies.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan says the interventions can save millions of lives through ramping up proven measures to prevent cardiovascular diseases in communities and countries.

"The Global Hearts Initiative aims to extend measures that have produced such dramatic results in wealthy populations to people living in countries with limited resources or in low-income groups," Dr Chan says.

"Poor and disadvantaged populations should not be denied access to interventions that can save so many lives, especially since effective interventions are also inexpensive," Dr Chan adds.

The Global Hearts Initiative comprises three technical packages: SHAKE, HEARTS and MPOWER.

The shake package considers a new set of evidence-backed policy options and examples to support governments to lower population salt consumption. The World Health organisation is optimistic that If fully implemented in every country, SHAKE could save millions of lives per year and dramatically reduce the burden of Non Communicable Diseases on health systems.

The HEARTS technical package gives countries the tools to incorporate cardiovascular disease management best practices at the primary health care level to reduce cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.

HEARTS aims to prevent heart attacks and strokes through equitable access to ongoing, standardized and quality care.

The third package, MPOWER consists of a set of six measures to help countries implement specific provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. 

"Reducing demand for tobacco products and content of salt in foods can help millions of people avoid unnecessary death and suffering from cardiovascular disease," Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO Director for Prevention of Non Communicable Diseases says. "This can also be a major cost saving for resource-strapped governments by avoiding unnecessary healthcare costs," he adds.