Ahead of World Health Day, UN calls for push to prevent and control hypertension

High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for death in the WHO South-East Asia Region, claiming 1.5 million lives each year. Photo: WHO/Jim Holmes

3 April 2013 – The United Nations health agency today called on countries to intensify efforts to prevent and control hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, which affects about one billion people worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is emphasizing the importance of people taking steps to improve their health by calling on adults to measure their blood pressure on World Health Day, which will be observed on Sunday.

“Our aim today is to make people aware of the need to know their blood pressure, to take high blood pressure seriously, and then to take control,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

World Health Day is observed on 7 April every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948 and each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of concern for the agency. This year’s theme “Measure your blood pressure, reduce your risk” focuses on preventing hypertension in people over 25 years of age.

Hypertension is one of the most important contributors to heart disease and stroke – which together make up the world’s number one cause of premature death and disability. It is most prevalent in Africa, where it affects up to 46 per cent of adults.

High blood pressure also contributes to nearly 9.4 million deaths from cardiovascular disease each year and increases the risk of conditions such as kidney failure and blindness.

People can take simple measures to reduce the risk of hypertension such as consuming less salt, eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco use and avoiding harmful use of alcohol. These actions, along with the measurement of blood pressure, also save individuals and governments time and money, WHO says.

“Early detection of high blood pressure and lowering heart attack and stroke risk is clearly far less expensive for individuals and governments than heart surgery, stroke care, dialysis, and other interventions that may be needed later if high blood pressure is left unchecked and uncontrolled,” said the Acting Director of the WHO Department for Management of Non-communicable Diseases, Shanthi Mendis.

“Most of the time there are no symptoms until you get complications, and this means that people have to know their numbers.” Ms. Mendis underlined that people over the age of 40 in particular must make an effort to get their blood pressure taken, as it tends to go up gradually.

WHO’s campaign to encourage people to measure their blood pressure is a response to the UN Declaration on Non-communicable Diseases, which was adopted by Heads of State and Government in September 2011. The Declaration commits countries to make greater efforts to promote public awareness campaigns to further the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and stroke, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases.


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