World Heart Day: Experts warn of steep rise in heart failure in Africa

Experts have identified significant gaps in awareness, diagnosis and prevention of heart failure in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) and asked that urgent action be taken to stop and reverse the steep rise in heart failure across these regions.

In a release to mark World Heart Day, they stated that heart failure is associated with significant morbidity and mortality and considerably impacts patients’ quality of life, as well as incurring a substantial economic burden estimated at US $1.92 Billion.

The group of regional experts had collectively outlined the primary gaps in awareness, diagnosis and prevention of heart failure in the region and agreed on a set of recommendations for policymakers to take forward. Their conclusions have been published in the Journal of the Saudi Heart Association.

According to them, the average age a person will develop heart failure in the MEA region is significantly lower than elsewhere: Africa (53 years), Middle East (56.4 years), North Africa (58.79 years), Asia (60 years) and Europe (70 years).

The experts point to risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, smoking and socioeconomic transition, marked by a sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity and high consumption of fatty foods, as the main contributors to the higher prevalence of heart failure in the region.

The paper points to the lack of community-level awareness and a high prevalence of associated conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, compounded by poor accessibility and affordability of healthcare, as major barriers to the prevention of heart failure in the region.

They also agreed that, in certain countries, the high prevalence of existing infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, shifts the focus and resources from non-communicable diseases like heart failure.

Dr Ahmed Bennis, a Professor of Cardiology, Department of Cardiology in Casablanca, Morocco, in reaction, stated policymakers across the region must act now to prioritise heart failure and associated diseases, through better training for health workers, national registries to ensure the collection of quality data and improved access to novel therapies given that heart failure is a serious and growing threat to health in the region.

Professor of Cardiology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Dr Eric Klug, declared that although local guidelines are available in South Africa, too many lives are being cut short in that part of the world due to gaps in how heart failure is identified and treated.

According to Dr Klug, “This problem also places a huge economic burden on already over-stretched health systems. This paper clearly lays out what needs to be done to avert further suffering. In honour of World Heart Day, we are calling on policymakers to turn words into action.”

Dr Viraj Rajadhyaksha, Area Medical Director for Middle East and Africa, AstraZeneca stated that for the first time, experts from across the Middle East and Africa have published a set of region-specific measures to tackle heart failure in efforts to save lives and livelihoods and AstraZeneca is committed to supporting health authorities to turn such recommendations into concrete actions.

To reverse current trajectories, they recommended prioritising heart failure and its associated comorbidities alongside other infectious diseases; developing and implementing region-specific clinical guidelines on heart failure and creating a local data registry on heart failure.

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