Kenya will soon embark on a major research project on heart disease.
In the study that will be coordinated by the Kenya Cardiac Society, 5,000 subjects will be observed and tracked for three years from 2018.
Sponsored by the National Research Fund, the project will involve the collection of heart ailment statistics from Aga Khan Hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.
Findings from the project will be used to compile a national heart health registry.
The four research areas of the registry project are heart failure, atrial fibrillation or heart rhythm disturbances; acute coronary syndromes which include heart attacks; venous thromboembolism (VTE), a disease which consists of clots that start in the vein or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and blood clots in the lung or Pulmonary Embolism (PE).
The team of investigators in charge of the project is led by Aga Khan University Hospital's Cardiology Fellowship Programme Director Dr Mzee Ngunga and Research Lead, Cardiac Sciences Programme Dr Anders Barasa, Kenya Cardiac Society (KCS) chairman Dr Bernard Gitura and Pan African Society of Cardiologists East Africa chapter chairman Dr Harun Otieno.
Speaking to the press during a heart symposium for medical professionals, Dr Ngunga said the facilities were keen on establishing a national heart health registry.
"From the data and findings that the survey will give us, we intend to establish a heart health registry that will provide us a comprehensive profile of heart disease in the country," he said.
Dr Ngunga said the registry would provide both the government and private healthcare providers with accurate and reliable data that could drive policy in the implementation of universal healthcare.
NRF is expected to cater for the cost of the project, estimated at around Sh20 million.
The doctor stressed on the importance of having data on heart disease in the country, saying it was one of the key pillars in formulating policies to manage the disease burden.
Dr Ngunga said the heart disease burden was likely to increase in Kenya over the next two decades, reaching a peak in 50 years.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has identified universal healthcare provision as a key development agenda, with the target of every Kenyan being able to access it by 2022.
Dr Barasa said the country had underestimated the impact and spread of cardiovascular diseases.
"While cardiovascular disease are generally on the decline in most Western countries, their prevalence is increasing in Africa. The registry will give us a clearer profile of which patients are at risk of developing heart disease in the country," he said.
Dr Barasa said the NRF and the participating facilities had agreed on a common data collection and analysis approach and were committed to using a single software package.
"We will use the same software and specially trained health records personnel to ensure a smooth and properly coordinated process of data collection and analysis," he said.
Dr Barasa said the study would use the longitudinal survey since its results would be more comprehensive and useful for long-term scientific reference.
A longitudinal study is an observational research method in which data is gathered for the same subjects repeatedly over a period of time. Longitudinal research projects can extend over years or even decades.
"We will be searching for accurate data covering individuals of all ages, social, ethnic and even racial backgrounds. This will be made possible by the variety of patients the three facilities handle on a daily basis," he said.
The medic said the risk factors for heart disease were high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes.
A STEP survey in 2015 established that an estimated 23 percent or one in four Kenyans have elevated blood pressure.
Dr Barasa said the prevalence of stroke and heart failure were higher in Kenya and affecting people at an earlier age than in the West.
He said more effort is required to tackle what he called "a persistent problem" of rheumatic heart disease, which results from unresolved throat infections that spread to the heart tissue.
The investigator and heart specialist said a number of Kenyans across the various economic levels have adopted a more sedentary lifestyle, adding that the combination of a non-exercise lifestyle and high-cholesterol diet could lead to obesity, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
"For instance, recent data indicates that 38 per cent of women in Nairobi are overweight. We have observed that overweight individuals are increasing in the country and this is not just limited to the affluent Kenyans," he said.