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health and wellness

Our National Emergency

Heart disease kills more Batswana than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined proving that this is not just a rich mans malady.
BY Prof KIRAN BHAGAT Cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases are no longer the diseases of the wealthy. Today, they hamper the people and the economies of the poorest populations even more than infectious diseases. This represents a public health emergency in slow motion. BAN KI-MOON United Nations Secretary-General For some reason, many people seem to believe that chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer only affect the rich. In fact, research has proved the opposite: in almost all countries, the poorest people are most at risk of developing chronic diseases and dying prematurely from them. You see, the poorer you are, the harder it is for you to see the right qualified doctor who will diagnose your symptoms correctly. At the same time, chronic diseases can push many people and their families into poverty, or deepen their poverty. Imagine being too sick to work. And too poor to pay your medical bills. Its easy to see how this kind of situation undermines a nations ability to reach its goals. And Botswana is no exception. Why is this happening? The principal reason is that low and middle-income countries are at the epicentre of two public health challenges: the old one, and the new one. We have an unfinished agenda in response to the old challenge. Tuberculosis. Malaria. HIV/AIDS. We still have work to do. But at the same time, were also experiencing a rapid upsurge in chronic, non-communicable diseases, especially in urban settings. This is the new challenge. Rapid urbanisation. Diet change. New work patterns. Increased stress. This is a classic recipe for chronic disease. New estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate just how heavy the toll really is. In 2005, the estimated loss of national income from heart disease, stroke and diabetes was: US$18 billion in China US$11 billion in Russia US$9 billion in India, and US$3 billion in Brazil. These losses will accelerate as time goes by. China, for example, will lose $558 billion over the next 10 years in foregone national income due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes alone. Consider that in low and middle-income countries around the world, around 28 million people died in 2005 from chronic disease. This is compared to approximately 1.2 million people who died from HIV in the same year. Heart disease alone killed five times as many people as HIV/AIDS in these countries. In low and middle-income countries (such as Botswana), middle-aged adults are especially vulnerable to chronic disease. People in countries such as ours tend to develop diseases at younger ages, suffer longer and die sooner than those in high-income countries. This means the middle age group is of particular concern. premature and unnecessary. Proven solutions are available to save millions of lives yours too.

How Not to Die of Heart Disease

Consider these free upgrades to your life expectancy.

1. Arm yourself with some knowledge

We cannot fix this problem by using the same thinking that got us here. If you are overweight, middle aged, working in the city, feeling stressed and not working out you are at risk.

2. Make some simple diet changes

Less sugar, less salt, less food fried in oil. Watch those extra kilos slip away.

Debunking a few myths

Firstly, these chronic illnesses are not just for the rich. Anyone who is over stressed, over weight and under-nourished is at risk. Four out of five deaths now occur in low-middle income countries. Secondly, many of the patients I meet seem to think that cardiovascular fatalities are only for men. What? Thats ridiculous. These diseases affect both sexes equally and the research proves it. Thirdly, dying of a heart-related condition is not a natural cause as many seem to believe. (Although, strokes and heart attacks among middle aged people have become so commonplace that I can understand why this belief has taken root in society). And finally, Id like to address all those who say, Well, we all have to die of something. The idea that not much can be done about chronic illness is the most damaging of all. Heart disease is slow, painful,

3. Get moving
Nobody is asking you to run a marathon or lift weights. A mere 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day will dramatically improve your fitness and overall wellbeing.

4. Measure your blood pressure

High blood pressure is the first telltale sign of heart disease. Get yours measured with a doctor immediately.

5. Cut down on cigarettes

Tobacco smoke is the cause of death for five million people a year. Nearly 600 fatalities every hour.
Prof KIRAN BHAGAT is a cardiologist and founder of Heart Foundation Botswana (HFB). His mission is to empower communities and reduce the overwhelming prevalence of heart disease in this country. Want to learn more? Call +267 371 0300