Brimming with enthusiasm, after having launched the community outreach arm of the Cardiac Clinic, the Heart Foundation of Botswana, Professor Kiran Bhagat, told Sunday Standard some startling statistics.
“There are 40 million people in the world living with HIV, but there are also 1.5 billion people living with high blood pressure.” Some of them also living with HIV, said Professor Bhagat.
Currently, a lot of emphasis is being placed on HIV and AIDS; heart diseases are the commonest causes of sudden death, and they are silent, he said.
“We hear people speak of knowing their HIV status, how about the status of their heart?” asked the professor.
The new Heart Foundation, which is registered as a charitable organization, will work at sensitizing people of the seriousness of heart diseases country wide.
“There are two ways of finding out if one has a heart disease, and that is by their death or by testing,” he said.
Last year, at an awareness campaign in Thamaga, Bhagat was told by a young man that heart diseases are ‘privilege’ illnesses and the least of his problems as they are prevalent amongst royalty and rich middle-aged men.
“This is not so, young adults and children are also at risk,” Bhagat said, adding that poverty is also a factor that raises the incidence of heart diseases.
“One lady said to me that it is cheaper buying a packet of potato chips, than fresh vegetables. This makes it a national imperative that people should have an environment that enables them to easily make healthier lifestyle choices,” said Bhagat.
The Cardiac Clinic has been raising awareness amongst primary school students through an annual heart art competition, which is open to mainstream and schools of children with disabilities.
Bhagat says the rise of obesity in children inspired this project. “Obesity is spawned by, amongst other things, eating late at night,” says Bhagat, who takes his own supper by seven. “After eating late at night, by morning they aren’t hungry because food is still in their stomach. In the late morning they get hungry, run to the tuck shop, buy junk food with so much sugar and their blood sugar level shoots up.
“Insulin regulates blood sugar, when it does so the energy is sapped, and they take more junk food so their blood sugar goes up and down the whole day. When they get home the cycle starts again.
“The Heart Art competition educates children though a DVD of my talk about keeping a healthy heart. After watching it, they then produce their depiction of a healthy heart. Last year, 83 thousand students participated. Thato Molefe, a blind 12-year-old student at Phatlhogo Primary School, produced a drawing of the heart in Braille that made him the 2007 winner.”
Prof Bhagat, however, says to make a considerable change, the Heart Foundation needs statistics.
“Systematic data is needed to present to funding organizations, like the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Assistance is also needed for nationwide collating of incidences of heart disease.”
The University of Botswana has volunteered the services of a statistician who will ensure accuracy of all data.