World Health Day 2013 Aims to Decrease Hypertension-Related Deaths

April 7 is World Health Day in celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. World Health Day aims to highlight an urgent area of public health concern worldwide. This year the selected theme is high blood pressure.

The WHO highlights the importance of hypertension as a global concern; 40% of adults aged 25 and over had raised blood pressure in 2008, 17.3 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2008, and 80% of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

Hypertension is also making its troll on the global economy and will generate an anticipated loss in economic output of US $3.5 trillion over the next two decades. Cardiovascular diseases are related to higher health care costs, loss in productivity, competitiveness and economic growth.

Therefore, it’s important to find the appropriate incentives to engage in healthy living and fight heart disease for the World Health Day.

People should be part of the solution and take the right habits to decrease their risk of heart disease. An alimentation with less salt, more fruits and vegetables, fewer overall calories, more physical activity and regular screening are all effective measures to prevent hypertension and hence will contribute to decrease overall mortality rates and will improve quality of lives.

In order to actively contribute to improving the populations’ well being, there are blog posts where thinkers share their perceptions on health and health care in the run-up to World Health Day on April 7.

For example, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch and UBS highlighted companies that are engaging in social responsibility and starting to address salt and other aspects of diet that need to be given attention. According to the WEF “these reports represent positive reinforcement for companies committed to change and help investors and consumers alike to make a healthy choice in terms of companies and products”.

Moreover, there are successful initiatives aimed at stimulating dietary changes by providing sizable “cash-back on healthy foods”. A nutritious food programme operated by the South African insurer Discovery’s Vitality Programme showed that a 10 to 25% discount on healthy foods at leading retailers across South Africa decreased purchases of unhealthy foods, many of which have high salt levels, in addition to increasing purchases of healthier types of food such as fruits and vegetables. Despite being scientific and reliable, this is the largest initiative ever reported given the study size of 170,000 households and follow-up time of 132 months.

The World Economic Forum recognizes health as a crucial part of long-term economic development. Many stakeholders such as intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, local governments, academic experts and private organizations contribute to the availability and quality of health services. Connecting these stakeholders is important in order to achieve efficient results through dialogue and interactions within the global health agenda.

To prevent the preventable on World Health Day 2013, there should be a better coalition among health care actors. For example, in Barbados, the Ministry of Health is offering blood pressure tests in barber shops, because adult males go there more often than their doctor’s surgery. In addition, cutting down on salt requires the involvement of Industry, reformulation of products, clear labeling on salt content and better education. As for physical activity, it doesn’t need a prescription, but schools, urban planners, designers, employers, city mayors and community leaders can all work together to promote and enable physical activity.

To conclude, there are three ways to achieve sustainable and universal access to health: emphasize the importance of prevention and primary care, foster the era of data-based and technology-based decisions in health care, and reinvent and innovate in the delivery of health services.  

Happy World Health Day, everyone!

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Olga Jbeili

I hold an MSc in Development Economics and a Graduate Diploma in Economics from the University of Sussex. Most recently I was working as a research officer at Sussex uni. I previously worked at the Carnegie Endowment in Beirut where I assisted scholars in researches related to food security and land acquisitions, peak-oil and rentier economies, sovereign wealth funds, labour markets among other topics... I am also particularly interested in the political economic situation in the developing and emerging economies and how this relationship might affect growth and long-run development.

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