High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for Maldivian deaths, and is much more prevalent among women than men nationwide.
One in 10 deaths in the Maldives, equaling over 100 yearly, can be attributed to this “silent killer” which often presents no symptoms.
High blood pressure – also referred to as hypertension – is a condition where blood vessels have a persistently raised pressure which can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, loss of vision, and premature death.
In the Maldives 32.9 percent of women, compared to 29.7 percent of men, are affected by hypertension, although the prevalence of men with hypertension is higher regionally and globally.
Hypertension has been increasing over the past decade in the Maldives. Economic progress has caused lifestyles to change drastically, reads a World Health Organisation (WHO) World Health Day report.
“In the era of globalisation, all countries are interrelated, rapid urbanisation, transition from agrarian life to wage-earning, and modern city life are considered to be the major contributors in the elevated blood pressure in urban areas,” WHO Representative Dr Akjemal Magtymova told Minivan News.
Unhealthy lifestyle and behavior risk factors for hypertension have increased, including consumption of processed foods containing excessive salt, low levels of physical activity, tobacco use, and obesity.
“Increasing levels of mental stress contribute to the adoption of unhealthy behaviors thus putting people at a higher risk of acquiring hypertension and related noncommunicable diseases,” the WHO South-East Asia Regional Director Dr Samlee Plianbangchang stated in his World Health Day 2013 message.
Magtymova explained “Some of the factors that may contribute to the higher prevalence of hypertension among Maldivian women include: no enough physical activity (affecting 41 percent of women in the Maldives compared with 37 percent of men), unhealthy diet (higher intake of salt, sugar and fat, – total cholesterol level in women is higher than in men), higher stress level, malnutrition in childhood and during reproductive age.”
For both men and women the prevalence of being overweight or obese is the highest in the Maldives compared to other countries in the South-East Asia Region.
“The 2008 data from the Maldives shows that among the adult population, 53 percent of women are overweight and 30 percent of men are overweight,” said Magtymova.
Over the past 14 years there has been an increasing trend of hypertension at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), physician Dr Ali Abdul Latheef explained in the WHO World Health Day report.
“What is alarming is that we now see a lot of young hypertensive patients. Many patients are in their early thirties and sometimes as young as early twenties,” said Dr Latheef.
High blood pressure is both preventable and treatable, but remains a growing global public health issue, which is why ‘control your blood pressure’ is the WHO’s World Health Day 2013 (April 7) theme.
The WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise weekly to prevent diseases like hypertension, according to the WHO World Health Day article.
Eating a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables, while reducing salt and processed foods is also important.
Stopping tobacco use and reducing harmful alcohol intake must also be addressed.
However, regular blood pressure checkups are essential, because there are rarely warning signs of hypertension and it can also develop as blood vessels harden with age.
Magtymova stated the WHO recommends implementing evidence based strategies to address all behavioral risk factors for preventing hypertension.
“High level commitment is needed to reverse the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases in the Maldives.
“The WHO is assisting the Government of Maldives and working closely with the Ministry of Health to improve available data on risk factors, prevalence and trends, as well as address risk factors by establishing preventative measures,” said Magtymova.
She further detailed that the WHO closely collaborates and supports non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the Diabetes Society of Maldives, SHE (Society of Health Education), Aged Care, the Autism Association, and Care Society.
Magtymova emphasised “A multi-sectoral approach is a key in addressing prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases as many determinants of non-communicable disease lie outside of the health sector.”
Thus, other UN agencies are also promoting healthy lifestyles, eating habits, school health education, as well as monitoring trends in malnutrition among children and mothers.