Hypertension snatching Ghana’s vibrant youth to early graves

Nii Martey (Not his real name), 27-year-old, is the second of four siblings of the Martey Kenkey family of Labadi in Accra.

Although his parents were not too rich, they managed to see him through the University of Ghana where he bagged a degree in Business Administration.

Completing his tertiary education brought his family so much joy, as the first graduate of the family, his parents, and siblings looked up to him to acquire a well-paid job to turn the fortunes of the family around.

One year after his national service, the reality of unemployment took a toll on Nii Martey, he had no option than to serve as a conductor, “mate” in a commercial vehicle- ‘trotro’ to support his siblings and sick father.

Soon, he became a ‘trotro’ driver, acquired a sprinter bus on credit and became a master of his own. Nii Martey became the bread winner of this family when his father died of hypertension.

In efforts to meet the demands of his family and offset his car loan, the young man worked tirelessly from dawn to dust without rest and any proper diet.

Adopting to the lifestyle of a typical trotro driver on the streets of Accra, Nii Martey started his day at 2:00am, spends about 90 per cent of his time behind the steering wheel, with no break to stretch his muscles, rest, and eat properly.

The young man was now addicted to energy drinks, meat pies, buff loafs, and foods sold on the streets and in traffic. He had one heavy meal after 10 pm in the night and retired to bed after 10:30 pm every day.

One rainy morning, Nii Martey started his day at 4 am instead of the usual 2 am, at about 7 am, while at work, he experienced a severe headache and chest pain, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

His blood pressure had shot up to 200/120mmHg upon arrival at the hospital, after a first examination the doctors confirmed he had a stroke, he died after two years of this condition.

Just like Nii Martey, the work demands, harsh economic conditions and poor lifestyles contribute to the high numbers of hypertension, a Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs); leading to the numerous “Gone too soon,” “What a Shock” and “Painful Exit” posters of persons 40 years and below seen on the streets of Accra.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) is when the pressure in your blood vessels is too high (140/90 mmHg or higher). It is common but can be serious if not diagnosed and treated on time.

In Ghana, the Non-Communicable Disease Programme recorded 622,849 cases of hypertension in 2022.

The World Health Organization estimates that hypertension affects 33 per cent of adults (1.3 billion) aged 30-79 worldwide with one in every three adults living with the condition.

Data from the WHO shows that 46 per cent of people with hypertension are undiagnosed, 58 per cent of people with hypertension are untreated and only 21 per cent of people with the condition under control.

People with very high blood pressure (usually 180/120 or higher) can experience symptoms including severe headaches, chest pain dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea, and vomiting.

Medical experts say blurred vision or other vision changes, anxiety, confusion, buzzing in the ears, nosebleeds and abnormal heart rhythm are all symptoms of hypertension.

Like Martey, most Ghanaians usually do not check the status of their blood pressure, until they are ill.

Dr Abena Asamoabea Okoh, the Metropolitan Director of Health Services, Accra Metropolis, expressed concern with the rate at which a lot of the youth are entering their early grave due to sedentary lifestyles.

She said Ghanaians, especially the youth have moved away from the tradition of preparing healthy meals at home to fast foods, which are high in salt and fats.

“People do not cook at home due to the influx of fast-food joints. Fast foods have become a reward and gift for children doing well in their academics and on their birthdays which are unhealthy and unfortunately, these children grow up and think these foods are good,” she added.

She said the increasing rate of smoking among the youth, and indiscriminate intake of alcohol push them towards NCDs like hypertension.

Dr Okoh urged the public to make conscious efforts to exercise regularly after the day’s work adding that, exercising around the house at one’s convenience for at least 15 minutes or walking from time to time, especially for those who own cars would help to maintain a healthy body.

She said hypertension had become a danger because most people are not aware of taking the necessary steps to manage it, causing most strokes, and heart attacks.

“In ensuring the implementation of the 2022 National Non-Communicable Disease Policy, educational campaigns especially on prevention are being done in Hospitals, communities, and schools and through their wellness clinics, which offers screenings for hypertension,” the medical doctor said.

She stressed the need for the public to make conscious efforts to adopt healthy lifestyles saying, there should be constant reminders of the need to exercise, and the provision of a conducive environment that promotes exercising, and more sidewalks free of motorcycles to encourage people to exercise.

Dr Kenneth Connell, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of West Indies, in a public lecture on hypertension, urged Ghanaians to have a blood pressure monitor at home for regular checks.

He said making blood pressure monitors available in every home was crucial because the fact that about 50 per cent of patients living with hypertension or high blood pressure are not aware of their status was a failure of public health.

He said to explore indigenous measures to address the problem, there was a need for innovations to improve access to care, such as telehealth and remote blood pressure monitoring.

 London is now consciously making it difficult for people to park their cars in town, which has led to more people cycling to improve their health, in a bid to keep people physically active.

Similarly in Cape Town, South Africa, continuous efforts are being made to reduce the number of cases, hence, gyms or places of exercise have been made available at vantage points where people can walk in at any time to exercise as much as they want free of charge.

On March 26, 2024, the Ugandan government in its quest to “tame the rising burden of lifestyle disease” in the country instructed all civil servants to spend two hours a week doing physical exercise to keep them fit and healthy.

These are good policy initiatives that Ghana can adopt to help address the rising cases of lifestyle diseases in the country.

The country’s future lies in the hands of the teeming youth, and they must be healthy to take up the mantle from the ageing leaders.


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Gh News Hub

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