Rise in hypertension cases during pandemic have set alarm bells ringing: Experts

Top health experts have expressed concern over the increasing incidence of hypertension - an underlying risk factor that can add to the burden of disease in a country ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic

New Delhi: “India is going through an epidemiological transition. We must act now. Responding to this crisis, we at Family Planning Association of India (FPA India) have decided to bring decades of experience in strengthening health systems to work on  creating more opportunities for identifying care gaps, bringing about inter-sectoral collaboration and pooling resources so that no opportunity is missed to screen, treat and control hypertension, across all age-groups, geographies and socio-economic strata”, stated Dr Kalpana Apte, Secretary General FPA India, speaking on the occasion of the 72nd Foundation Day of Family Planning Association of India.
Experts have raised an alarm over the increasing incidence of Hypertension – a silent killer – that can add to the burden of disease in a country ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Webinar on the topic of “Expanding the Horizons of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)” was held on 23rd July 2021 commemorating the occasion wherein experts discussed the alarming rise in the burden of Hypertension.
The event marked the launch of Project PrACHI- Prioritizing Advocacy for Control of Hypertension in India – a nation-wide campaign supported by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, to accelerate hypertension control and treatment in India. “Prachi” is also an Indian word of Sanskrit origin (and also a popular Indian name) that means the first rays of the Sun, rising in the East. Project PrACHI thus symbolizes a new beginning and a renewed focus or dawn of the discourse on prioritizing hypertension control in India as a simple yet high impact strategy to reduce disease burden.
Hypertension – or high blood pressure – is a serious medical condition that is one of the leading causes of death in the world. After more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic, there is enough evidence that people with high blood pressure are more likely to get severely sick or die if they get Covid-19. In India almost 30% of adults have hypertension, and an alarmingly high number are unaware of their condition. Hypertension or high blood pressure is a serious medical condition that is responsible for at least 10.4 million deaths and 218 million disabilities adjusted life years (DALY) globally. Over 1.13 billion people in the world live with this chronic condition. In India, untreated and uncontrolled Blood Pressure (BP), has become a leading cause for premature death and disability.
The Government of India is committed to reducing the prevalence of hypertension in India by 25% by 2025. Achieving this goal will require effectively treating an additional 4.5 crore people with hypertension in the next four years.
Speaking at the event, Ms Vandana Shah, Regional Director, Global Health Advocacy Incubator said, “A high prevalence of hypertension exacts a tremendous price on public health. The pandemic has shown us how people living with chronic conditions like hypertension can become sicker and be more at risk of dying. GHAI is excited to partner with FPAI on this important intervention and hope that Project Prachi can strengthen and support the Government of India’s work on hypertension control and treatment.”
Cardiovascular disease (CVD), primarily ischaemic heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 17.7 million deaths annually. WHO estimates that India accounts for over a fifth of these deaths. Awareness of hypertension in India is low while appropriate treatment and control are even lower. Undetected and untreated hypertension has been ranked as the highest risk factor for heart disease and related deaths.
Unless blood pressure is measured, hypertension cannot be detected, since it has no symptoms. Demographers, doctors and public health experts  gathered during the event to give a  clarion call to consider treatment and management of hypertension as a public health priority for India.
Reiterating the need for integrating measures to control hypertension within every health vertical, Dr Rathnamala Desai, President, FPA India stated that regular preventive health check-ups should be especially encouraged among the younger working age (35-65 years) and women in the reproductive age to pick up underlying hypertension, that can potentially lead to adverse cardiovascular or reproductive health events.
“Almost one in five women aged 15–49 years in India has undiagnosed hypertension with implications for personal and reproductive health. We are closely working with the Government of Punjab in controlling this menace through politico-bureaucratic and media advocacy, capacity building of health professionals and generating evidence for policy and practice”, added Dr Sonu Goel, Professor, Department of Community Medicine, PGIMER, Chandigarh.
Impact of Hypertension on sexual and reproductive health
Numerous studies have evaluated the association between hypertension and impaired sexual health, in both men and women. The detrimental effects of hypertension in men include erectile dysfunction, decrease in semen volume, sperm count and motility, and abnormal sperm morphology. Similarly, hypertensive females exhibit decreased vaginal lubrication, reduced orgasm, and several complications in pregnancy leading to fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality. Adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular disease share common risk factors, including hypertension, hyperglycaemia, and obesity. Early recognition and management of hypertension during pregnancy can help the women to manage Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy.