World Health Day 2013: honouring a leader, controlling high blood pressure

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region will observe World Health Day 2013 (7 April) on 8 April with a ceremony honouring Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for his leadership in public health.

"It is fitting that we celebrate World Health Day by recognizing President Aquino's exemplary leadership in public health," says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. "Among his most significant accomplishments have been raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and giving vulnerable Filipinos access to health insurance and to reproductive health care. He truly embodies the principle from which WHO derives so much of its direction and inspiration: that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental right."

The theme of World Health Day 2013 is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Implicated in many heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure is one among the leading causes of preventable death.

“Public health policy needs to address high blood pressure," Dr Shin says. "If it doesn't then we won't be able to adequately address the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases that accounts for 80% of the deaths in our Region. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for the cardiovascular diseases that account for about half of noncommunicable disease deaths. So, the connection between controlling high blood pressure and achieving our ambitious targets for the control of the noncommunicable diseases is plain."

High blood pressure is often related to behavioural or lifestyle factors. These include eating foods high in salt and fat, the harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and tobacco use.

In addition, metabolic risk factors—such as diabetes, high blood cholesterol and obesity—increase the risk of complications from high blood pressure, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and blindness.

Many people do not know they have high blood pressure because it does not always manifest symptoms, making it a silent killer. High blood pressure complications account for 9.4 million deaths globally each year. One in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure. The proportion increases with age, from one in 10 people in their 20s and 30s to five in 10 in their 50s. Worldwide, it is estimated that high blood pressure causes 51% of deaths due to stroke and 45% due to heart disease.

In the Western Pacific Region, 37% of adults older than 24 have high blood pressure (40.4% in men and 34.9% in women). Moreover, 36.7% of adults aged 25 and older have raised blood cholesterol, 33.2% of people older than 15 years have insufficient physical activity, 25.4% of adults older than 20 years are overweight, 24.8% of adults aged older than 15 smoke tobacco daily.

The risk of developing high blood pressure and its dire consequences can be minimized by cutting down on salt and fat, eating a balanced diet, avoiding tobacco and the harmful use of alcohol and getting regular exercise. For many people, lifestyle changes are sufficient to control blood pressure. For others, medication is required. Inexpensive medication exists, which is effective when taken as prescribed.

The ultimate goal of World Health Day 2013 is to reduce heart attacks and strokes. Specific objectives of the campaign are to:

  • raise awareness of the causes and consequences of high blood pressure;
  • encourage adults to check their blood pressure and to follow the advice of health-care professionals;
  • encourage self-care to prevent high blood pressure;
  • make blood pressure measurement affordable to all; and
  • encourage national and local authorities to create enabling environments for healthy behaviours.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Hai-Rim Shin
Team Leader, Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion
Tel.: +632 528 9860
E-mail: shinh@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O’Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel.: +632 528 9992
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int

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