By Juliet Umeh

Experts have called for urgent action to stop and reverse the steep rise in heart failure occurring across the Middle East and Africa, MEA even as it said the Middle East and Africa parades the lowest age for heart failure globally.

Handing down the warning, in their publication in the Journal of the Saudi Heart Association, a group of regional experts, who collectively outlined the primary gaps in awareness, diagnosis and prevention of heart failure in the region agreed on a set of recommendations for policymakers to take forward. 

The experts’ paper highlighted 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, with a total estimated cost of US $1.92 Billion.

It further noted that the average age a person will develop heart failure in the MEA region is significantly lower than elsewhere: Africa (53 years), the Middle East (56.4 years), North Africa (58.79 years), Asia (60 years) and Europe (70 years).1-3

The experts identified the risk factors to include 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.

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.

To mark World Heart Day 2022, the Lead Authors stressed the ongoing, wide gaps and unmet needs in awareness, prevention, and diagnosis of heart failures in countries across the Middle East and Africa.

Commenting, Professor of Cardiology, Department of Cardiology in Casablanca, Morocco, Dr. Ahmed Bennis said: “Heart failure is a serious and growing threat to health in the Middle East and Africa, but it does not have to be this way. Policymakers across the region must act now to prioritise heart failure and associated diseases, through better training for health workers, and national registries to ensure the collection of quality data and improved access to novel therapies.” 

Also, a Professor of Cardiology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Dr. Eric Klug said: “Whilst local guidelines are available in South Africa (click), too many lives are being cut short in this part of the world due to gaps in how we identify and treat heart failure.

This problem also places a huge economic burden on already over-stretched health systems. This paper 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.”

On his part, Area Medical Director for the Middle East and Africa, AstraZeneca, Dr. Viraj Rajadhyaksha added: “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. AstraZeneca is committed to playing our part and supporting health authorities to turn these recommendations into concrete actions.”

The paper also pointed out that a 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, are major barriers to the prevention of heart failure in the region.

They urged policymakers to reverse the current trajectories by prioritising heart failure and its associated comorbidities alongside other infectious diseases, develop and implement region-specific clinical guidelines on heart failure, create local data registries on heart failure, train health workers in the early identification of high-risk patients, improve access to advanced diagnostics and train primary care health workers to use the available technology and enhance access and insurance for novel therapies.

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