World Health Day message on blood pressure
Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization
Distinguished guests, staff, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me extend a warm welcome to this World Health Day event, where we are drawing attention to the problem of hypertension, or high blood pressure.
The problem is huge. WHO estimates that more than one in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure. In some parts of Africa, nearly half of all adults have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is one of the most important contributors to premature death from cardiovascular disease worldwide. It contributes to nearly 9.4 million deaths due to heart disease and stroke every year. Together, heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of death worldwide.
High blood pressure also increases the risk of kidney failure, blindness, and several other conditions. It often occurs together with other risk factors, like obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol, increasing the health risk even further.
For all these reasons, high blood pressure contributes substantially to the escalating costs of health care.
In wealthy countries, strong public health policies, preventive programmes, and widely available diagnosis and treatment have led to a reduction in the prevalence of high blood pressure. Unfortunately, in many developing countries, the disease burden caused by high blood pressure has increased over the past decade.
Our aim today is to make people aware of the need to know their blood pressure, to take high blood pressure seriously, and then to take control. In doing so, they will need support from responsive health services.
High blood pressure must be taken seriously. It is a strong and reliable warning signal that health is at risk and that something needs to be done.
But high blood pressure is also a silent warning signal, usually showing no symptoms for years or even decades, even when values are dangerously high.
That vital early warning signal will go unheard, and unheeded, unless people have a chance to take a simple, inexpensive, and rapid blood pressure test. When symptoms of high blood pressure do appear, cardiovascular disease is usually advanced and the risk of sudden acute events, like a heart attack or a stroke, is greatly increased.
Getting the warning signal early on is by far the better option. The actions that can be taken early on are far less costly, and less risky for patients, than interventions, like cardiac bypass surgery and dialysis, that may be needed when hypertension is missed and goes untreated.
High blood pressure is preventable, and it is treatable. For both, knowing blood pressure levels is the first critical step. Wellness programmes at the workplace can be an excellent entry point for blood pressure measurement.
For prevention, the advice is straightforward and familiar. Reduce salt intake. Keep fit, trim, and active. Know your ideal body weight, and aim for it. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less highly processed foods, especially junk foods.
Go easy on the sugary beverages. Do not use tobacco, and stay away from tobacco smoke. Drink alcohol only in moderation, or not at all.
For many people, these lifestyle changes are sufficient to control blood pressure. For others, medication is required. Hypertension can be treated with safe and inexpensive medicines. Doing so greatly reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.
My advice to the public is this. Be safe. Know your blood pressure. Act smart. Shape up your lifestyle. Follow recommendations for medication and safe-care meticulously.
Your health is in your hands. Don’t let an invisible, silent killer steal years of your life away.