Tackling hypertension and improving stroke prevention awareness in South Africa

Hypertension prevalence in South Africa as recorded in the Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE), conducted by the World Health Organisation, is the highest ever reported by a nationally representative survey of people aged 50 and over for any country.[1] 

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa estimate that up to 1 in 3 adults have raised blood pressure levels; the most important risk factor for stroke. A high salt intake is an established risk factor for increased blood pressure. South Africans consume more than double the recommended amount of salt a day. In 2013 the Minister of Health signed legislation to make salt reduction in the food industry mandatory, making South Africa the first country globally to legislate salt levels to help reduce the amount of salt that the public takes in from processed foods.

Also in 2013, Salt Watch was established through a multi-sectorial coalition group to undertake a public awareness and education campaign to encourage South Africans to reduce their salt intake. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa was nominated as the implementing body of the campaign, with the support of the National Department of Health. The campaign consists of a television and radio campaign and providing information and education materials. Salt Watch brochures are available free of charge, in five different languages (www.saltwatch.co.za ).

The Heart and Stroke Foundation, in a joint venture with Unilever, have also created a Salt Calculator to help people estimate their salt consumption. The salt calculator estimates salt intake based on the frequency by which common foods are consumed, and then provides feedback on current intake and tips on making better food choices. The tool was developed by using local research and statistics to guide the inclusion of food categories. Sodium content for more than 200 branded foods was collected online and in-store to provide a representative and reliable tool.[2]

Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of The Heart and Stroke Foundation says ‘my reason for wanting to prevent stroke is indeed because largely it can be prevented if you make positive life-style choices. Despite having a genetic vulnerability or a familial history for raised blood pressure, if you have good eating habits by choosing foods with low salt levels and refrain from adding salt to cooked food, and engage in physical activity which can also help to reduce stress levels, you can reduce your risk for a stroke. The effects of stroke can have a devastating impact on you, your family and your ability to lead a productive life.’

Another stroke support organization engaged in awareness raising and risk factor management is The Stroke Survivors Foundation South Africa. The Stroke Survivors Foundation provides post-discharge support for stroke survivors, their families and caregivers. This includes information on stroke and how to manage risk factors. Information is shared through social media, a website, print materials and at stroke support groups.

Having experienced the lack of statutory stroke support in the community after a stroke in his thirties, George Scola co-founded the Stroke Survivors Foundation in 2010. The sole purpose for creating the Stroke Survivors Foundation is to assist stroke survivors, their families and their caregivers, survive the trauma and give them the knowledge needed to endure the incident and their recovery.

George says ‘a stroke is a silent killer; this does not mean that we just have to accept it and fight it on our own. Having survived the stroke is the easy part. Recovering, adjusting and acknowledging the disability, patience for the survivor and the caregivers, staying motivated and staying positive… this is the difference between conquering and overcoming it, or taking it lying down’.

‘My reason for wanting to prevent a stroke is because I have personally experienced the destruction it can cause to a stroke survivor’s life, the turmoil and negative impact on their families, spouses, children and parents!
With the exception of medical reasons and in order to prevent this type of destruction from happening to others, it is important to look after ones health by not smoking, exercising regularly and following a healthy eating plan.’

For more information please visit:

[1] Lloyd-Sherlock et al (2014)
[2] Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
Tackling hypertension and improving stroke prevention awareness in South Africa Reviewed by Sarah Belson on Thursday, August 31, 2017 Rating: 5

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