Heart Health among the poor a critical focal issue for Africa and other continents

30 Sep 2019 - 12:45

The role of education in prevention of heart disease was emphasised at  the 2019 World Heart Day event on Sunday 29 September in the Two Oceans Aquarium,Cape Town, hosted by World Heart Federation President, Prof Karen Sliwa.

“Education not only results in better understanding of heart health and being able to identify symptoms, it also relates to especially the levels of education of women and their access to good primary health care services,” said Sliwa in her welcome address to a multi-disciplinary gathering of clinicians, researchers and advocates. Sliwa, who is also Director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa at the University of Cape Town (UCT), focusses her research on African population studies on cardiovascular disease as well as cardiac disease in pregnancy.

Among women, rheumatic heart disease was a specific problem linked to poverty and access to health services. She gave the example of a young girl with untreated tonsillitis, due to lack of primary health care services, which could lead to inflammation of the heart valves, resulting in Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD). The heart is weakened more during  pregnancy due to the added pressure on the heart, resulting in shortness of breath and often in death of the mother and the unborn child.  The World Health Assembly has recognised this as a global problem and recently tabled a resolution on addressing RHD on a global scale.

Sliwa also spoke of the link between air-pollution and heart disease with air-pollution contributing to to an estimated 25% of cardiovascular disease mortality worldwide.

The irony of the backdrop to the stage where sting-rays were swimming safely in a tank at the aquarium was not lost as another speaker spoke of  plastic in sea pollution, and the dangers to both sea life and human health.

The World Heart Day programme continues from 30 September to 1 October at the Hatter Institute, based in the Faculty of Health Sciences, with the Institute’s 4th symposium on Cardiovascular Disease in Pregnancy. A special session on rheumatic heart disease will be held, aligning with a new study commencing in 2019, the Registry Of Pregnancy And Cardiac (ROPAC) sub-study on valvular heart disease.

Opening the symposium, UCT Vice-Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng welcomed the special session on RHD because of the high-levels of the disease in Africa. She emphasised the role that UCT can play through Prof Sliwa’s presidency of the World Heart Federation - which represents more than 200 cardiac societies and foundations globally - in steering the direction of cardiac research for the benefit of Africans. UCT’s responsibility as the top university on the continent, should be to ensure that we do teaching and research for the continent, she emphasised.

Sliwa is delighted with interest shown from a wide range of disciplines and countries.

 “Our symposium is unique in that we have participation across a broad spectrum of disciplines, including obstetricians, gynaecologists, cardiologists, internal medicine specialists, anaesthetists and basic scientists,” she says.

A total of 70 delegates, of which 24 are speakers, will attend this symposium from Brazil,the Netherlands, Iraq, France, Germany, the USA, Nigeria, Mocambique, Botswana  and South Africa.

 Previous meetings have facilitated fruitful and engaging discussions which have led to new collaborations, research projects and publications.