AKU wins award to study ways to lower hypertension

Karachi: The Aga Khan University’s Department of Community Health Sciences and international collaborators have received an award to study ways to lower hypertension in adults living in rural South Asia.

The study will test low-cost strategies by health workers and doctors to lower blood pressure among adults and reduce their risk of heart disease in three key countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – in South Asia where hypertension is a rapidly growing problem. The trial, called COBRA-BPS (Control of Blood Pressure and Risk Attenuation – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and led by principal investigator Professor Tazeen Jafar from the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, will study 2500 individuals in 30 rural communities in these three countries over a period of three years.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, has reached epidemic proportions in Pakistan, affecting one in three adults 45 years or older said Dr Imtiaz Jehan, the principal investigator of the study in Pakistan and an associate professor at AKU’s Department of Community Health Sciences. It is largely un-recognized illness and lowering blood pressure can be the single most important way to prevent the rising rates of heart disease and deaths in the country.

The study strategies will include providing education in patients’ homes about lowering their blood pressure through diet and exercise, improving referrals to trained doctors using simple checklists, training doctors and nurses in the management of hypertension including the use of low-cost medicines, and having special counters at health clinics to provide tailored assistance for patients with high blood pressure.

The findings from this multi-country trial are likely to inform much needed policy action on hypertension management in Pakistan. It will also help us compare and contrast our successful strategies on hypertension management with other countries said Dr Jehan.

Dr Jafar added The strategies being evaluated in the COBRA-BPS trial are likely to offer sustainable and low cost solutions for effective blood pressure lowering that can be integrated in the public healthcare systems in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, and save millions of lives.

Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart diseases among others, account for more than half of all deaths worldwide. Worse, more than 80 per cent of people who die live in low and middle-income countries. This growing epidemic is a particular problem in South Asia, where people tend to get heart disease at a younger age, causing a greater loss of productive years of life with serious economic consequences for countries in the region.

Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have recently prioritised action on tackling non-communicable diseases.

Dr Fauzia Rabbani, Chair, Department of Community Health Sciences, AKU reemphasised this point. With a growing burden of non-communicable diseases in Pakistan, this trial is timely and will identify evidence based pragmatic solutions, which can be up-scaled to improve the performance of our health systems.

The study is funded by the Joint Global Health Trials Scheme, a partnership of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Medical Research Council and Welcome Trust, which aims to generate new knowledge about interventions to improve health in low and middle income countries that can be quickly implemented.