As Kenya marks the World Hypertension Day today, the Ministry of Health has reiterated its commitment towards using technology to control prehypertension even as the pandemic disrupts normal health processes in hospitals.
Chief Administrative Secretary at the ministry Dr Rashid Aman, said while Covid-19 has posed new challenges to Non Communicable Diseases (NDCs) service delivery throughout the world, the government will keep putting in place e-health solutions to facilitate continuity of services while still ensuring the safety of both patients and healthcare workers.
"As we mark the World Hypertension Day today under the theme of Measure Your Blood Pressure, Control it, Live Longer, we wish to re-assure hypertension and NCD patients that we are doing as much as possible to limit disruption of essential healthcare services at this time.
"We have put in place guidelines to facilitate continuity of telemedicine and e-visits options by creating self-management plans and guidelines covering treatment of NCD patients," he said.
Dr Aman said the government is partnering with Kenya's largest hypertension screening programme, AstraZeneca's Healthy Heart Africa (HHA) to mark six years of a project that tackles prehypertension by driving awareness and providing screening, training and affordable medicines.
The programme is also running in conjunction with the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) and the Academic Model Providing Access to Health Care (AMPATH).
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines prehypertension as a blood pressure reading that lies between 120/80 and 139/89. It occurs when blood pressure values are above normal levels but are still below hypertension levels.
Persons identified with the condition are vulnerable to transitioning to hypertension and are also associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.
According to a report released recently by HHA, the prevalence of hypertension in men is 59 per cent compared to women who have a 52 per cent prevalence rate.
The report, Burden of Prehypertension Among Adults in Kenya: A Retrospective Analysis, shows that the highest rate of prehypertension was recorded among those aged 65 years and above, with a greater proportion attributed to rural populations - at 57 per cent compared to urban dwellers at 55 per cent respectively.
Since launching in Kenya six years ago and subsequently expanding to Ethiopia in 2016, Tanzania in 2018, Ghana in 2019 and Uganda in 2020, HHA said it has conducted over 15.5 million blood pressure screenings in communities and healthcare facilities.
"We have trained over 7,290 healthcare workers, to provide education and awareness, screening and treatment services for hypertension; activated 800 healthcare facilities in Africa to provide hypertension services, and identified over 2.8 million elevated blood pressure readings," a statement from the organisation reads.
Dr Aman noted that the HHA programme had proven to be an effective primary healthcare intervention solution and "our partnership has continued to serve Kenyans across the country, even as we push to achieve universal health coverage."
Chief executive and Medical Director of St Mary's Mission Hospitals Dr Carren Owuor said the programme has helped identify gaps in reaching people who are in dire need yet were not targeted before.
"When we started the programme, we only screened patients, but we now screen both patients and their relatives for hypertension when they visit the hospital. This has increased the chances of identifying more people with mild or overt hypertension," she said.
Ashling Mulvaney, Vice President, Sustainability Access to Healthcare, Global Sustainability at AstraZeneca told the Nation that the project has been bringing healthcare closer to people through community and national interventions, and strengthening health systems on the continent as well as in creation of sustainable solutions for life changing treatment and prevention.
"Our partnership with the Ministry of Health in Kenya, the KCCB and AMPATH Kenya, as well as other Ministries of Health and partners in Africa, has proven to be an effective model in building infrastructure, removing barriers and supporting collaboration within local healthcare systems to improve outcomes for patients," he remarked.
AMPATH Kenya Executive Director-Care Prof Sylvester Kimaiyo said through a partnership with the County Government of Bungoma, USAID and HHA, his organization has integrated HIV and hypertension services to reach those outside of the traditional entry points to care, with a particular emphasis on men.
"Implemented through the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Bungoma HIV/Hypertension Integrated Model has been working to integrate screening, care, treatment and retention activities to the community and has worked well to increase male participation in HIV screening and care," he said.
The Covid-19 crisis has exhibited the need for continuity and ongoing action to tackle non- communicable diseases, this being highlighted by reports linking hypertension, cardiovascular diseases or their risk factors such as obesity, smoking and physical inactivity with a greater risk of being severely impacted by the virus.
To ensure continuity of care for persons living with NCDs, an NCD and National Covid-19 working group has been established, chaired by the Ministry of Health and NCD Alliance Kenya and consisting of various partners, to ensure that NCD care is not disrupted during the pandemic.