More Kenyan children at risk of hypertension

Dr. Fred Bukachi a cardiologist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi
Dr. Fred Bukachi a cardiologist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi

Three boys have just arrived in a rural homestead in Embu County from their Nairobi home and in excitement joined their two cousins in joyful union which spread into child play involving running around coupled with a game of hide and seek.

Some 10 minutes into the game, two of the city boys are breathings heavily and perspire while they persistently plead with their upbeat rural colleagues to allow them take a break so that they could rest.

During the break, the boys quickly pick their plastic bottles of take-away popular carbonated soft drinks and coloured sugar coated cakes and start to sip and chew as they rest under a tree.

After some minutes of play the rural boys join colleagues under the tree but by the time they realize that their visitors have sweeter snacks, they are already chewing pieces of arrow roots and sweet potatoes, the remains of last night’s dinner and want a taste of the sugary pieces from the visitors.

In fact before the break, the mother to urban boys had to intervene for her sons pleading with their village siblings to allow them a break.

A close observation of the playmates indicates that the urban boys have oily well rounded smooth bodies while their village folks are thin looking and look rough and tough.

Health experts have through recent studies found being overweight as the culprit to many ailments afflicting both children and adults in Kenya.

But even worse, recent studies paint a dark image of health issues with alarm being raised over growing hypertension among children.

Experts in the Ministry of Health and universities say high blood pressure generally associated with adults was dangerously afflicting children. The experts trace the entry of the ailment to children in two lifestyle linked problems.

First, lifestyles mostly among the wealthy and comfortable who rarely get involved in physical activities and exercises like tilling the land and walking-activities, quite normal in rural areas is the main challenge.

Away from that, International Consultant Cardiologist and University of Nairobi lecturer Dr Fred Bukachi who is a key expert in Healthy Heart Africa Partnership Programme warns that consumption of alcohol and smoking highly predisposes yet-to-be-born babies to high blood pressure.

Although the ailment is at times hereditary, Bukachi explains that children born prematurely and with low weight or heart problems are under bigger threat of suffering high blood pressure.

To reduce risks, notes Bukachi, experts have perhaps undertaken the first ever remedial measure in handling hypertension among children in the country.

Known as the primordial prevention, it includes dissuading expectant women from consumption of alcohol and even smoking — two ingredients which predispose the yet to be born to high blood pressure among other health challenges.

According, Bukachi, ministries of health and education as well as expert cardiologists were at the initial stages of introducing health messages across the board mainly targeting children as a means to create awareness on high blood pressure in schools.

“Under the project, children across targeted schools are being encouraged to participate in different and frequent physical exercises and stress reduction activities,” said Bukachi.

He noted: “This scenario comes as it emerges from research that the number of children with high blood pressure has been on the increase yet most health institutions and personnel ignore the threat and concentrate more on adults.”

An observation by the REJECT indicates that in most health institutions in Embu County all adults seeking treatment are mandatorily screened for high pressure.

Strangely at the Embu Level 5 Hospital, youthful looking people and children are not screened for high blood pressure.

This is against a background where without specifying on the age, a past research has revealed that at least four people in 10 have hypertension.

According to the above findings and recent report posted in the organisation’s website,  Healthy Heart Africa is locally working in 20 counties under a national initiative to increase awareness on hypertension through screening and advice where ailment is detected.

Experts note that while the disease continues to cause a combination of ailments, few Kenyans are aware of the disease.

“We acknowledge high blood pressure’s presence in the country yet very few Kenyans are aware of the treatment and how to manage it” says Sammer A. Hallaq, vice chairman of the Initiative.

Stress management programmes for children remain rare in Kenya yet experts say stress is worse in cases where culprits have hypertension.

Opportunities for release of such information through school based counselling sessions have not been utilized.

Under an on-going programme, Bukachi says while children with high blood pressure show no symptoms, it is today mandatory that once any child is found to suffer hypertension, he or she is connected to a specialist for treatment and management.

Just like among children who show no symptoms, most victims of this disease have no signs or symptoms even when high blood pressure reading reach dangerously high levels at the first screening in health institutions.

Rural based children are somehow lucky for lifestyles which do not predispose them to hypertension. This is because they walk or ran to school and are at times forced to speed home for lunch.

While at home, the rural based children are widely involved in energy consuming duties and play contrary to their urban based colleagues who are mostly driven to school, have little space for play and yet they end up spending many hours stuck on comfortable seats watching TV.

At the same time while urban children take readily available processed sugar snacks, their rural counterparts do with more natural snacks including fresh fruits and sugar free snacks mainly whole cereal based including  nuts, peas, beans, bananas and papaws.

A recent research “Global Diseases Burden” revealed that six million Kenyans are overweight while 1.8 are classified as obese. Victims of high blood pressure who are obese face worse challenges in management of their health.

Experts under the “Global Disease Burden” warned that “lack of exercise and busy schedules are pushing Kenyans to adopt modern lifestyles where many use vehicles instead of walking as it happened in the past”.

The research revealed that while many especially women and children in the rural areas spend time tilling land or in energy consuming chaos, urbanites spend huge amounts of time comfortable on the sofa sets watching TV —sometimes even sending house helps to fetch basics such as snacks and water from their kitchens.

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