June 16, 2024

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Healthy Heart Africa Expands NCD Program To Cover Chronic Kidney Disease

Dr Franklin Asiedu Bekoe, Director Public Health, Ghana Health Service (right) and Dr Winfred Ofosu of Ghana Health Service (right standing) signing an MoU with Deepak Arora, Country President, African Cluster at AstraZeneca (left) and Ruud Dobber, Executive Vice-President, BioPharmaceuticals Business Unit of AstraZeneca (left standing).

On the sidelines of the 77th World Health Assembly last week, Healthy Heart Africa announced that it would be expanding its work to tackle the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa. Starting this year, the program – which was launched by AstraZeneca in 2014 initially to address hypertension – will now also support countries in combating chronic kidney disease (CKD) and extend its reach into additional countries in North Africa.

We sat down with Deepak Arora, Country President for the African Cluster at AstraZeneca, to learn more about what this expansion means for the continent.

Deepak Arora, Country President, African Cluster, AstraZeneca.

How has Healthy Heart Africa helped address NCDs across Africa?

Partnering with governments, healthcare providers and local communities, AstraZeneca’s Healthy Heart Africa programme supports countries in addressing the growing social and economic burden of NCDs by targeting those in greatest need and improving equitable access to care.

The programme aims to challenge traditional thinking and advocate for policy changes in healthcare to improve outcomes for all individuals affected by NCDs, regardless of their demographic, geographic or socio-economic status. It also seeks to support health systems to embrace innovative health technologies, which have the potential to make screening more accessible, particularly in remote and underserved communities in Africa.

Since our founding 10 years ago, Healthy Heart Africa has trained more than 11,480 healthcare workers and screened more than 50 million people and achieved its aspiration of identifying over 10 million patients with elevated blood pressure across the continent. To date, HHA has been implemented in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Rwanda, and now Egypt. We are so proud of this impact.

What is the significance of the Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) signed in Uganda and Ghana, and what impact will these have on the countries’ efforts to address the rising burden of NCDs?

In Uganda, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is increasing and is among the top 10 causes of death. This growing burden requires a multifaceted approach that incorporates early screening, diagnosis, and treatment at a primary care level.

The new MoU that we have signed with the Ministry of Health of Uganda will enable us to expand the Healthy Heart Africa programme in the country to tackle this disease. This includes increased education efforts on the symptoms and risks of hypertension and educating about healthy lifestyle choices; training providers and driving care to lower levels of the healthcare system; and offering health screening, and access to treatment and disease management.

 Similarly, in Ghana, the overall prevalence of CKD has been shown to range between 6.74% and 13.3% and is associated with increasing morbidity and mortality, which places significant financial burden on the health system.

AstraZeneca’s Healthy Heart Africa programme has been working with the Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Services, and our implementing partner, PATH, to address hypertension and cardiovascular disease in Ghana since 2019. Our shared commitment to address NCDs is reflected in the memorandum of understanding signed with Ghana Health Services.

We are expanding the HHA programme to address the growing and unmet need for chronic kidney disease. The expanded scope builds on HHA’s scientific legacy of collaborative partnerships to cardiovascular diseases in Africa. This memorandum of understanding outlines the terms and agreements of engagement and collaboration between HHA and Ghana Health Services in cardiorenal care in Ghana.

What unique role does a pharmaceutical company like AstraZeneca play in improving NCD care in Africa?

Pharmaceutical companies don’t only develop and provide health products. They also bring a depth of knowledge about the patient care journey, which can provide insights into what prevents people from getting screened and treated and in turn, strengthen health systems.

We also have extensive experience bringing together a range of stakeholders to address health challenges – from public health experts, researchers, and patients, to tech firms, government officials, and policymakers. Partnerships are central to the Healthy Heart Africa programme.

Working together, we’re able to maximise our impact by addressing the barriers that prevent access to care; increasing awareness of the symptoms and risks of hypertension and educating about healthy lifestyle choices; training providers and driving care to lower levels of the healthcare system, and offering health screening, and access to treatment and disease management.

A significant aspect of CKD is its strong interconnection with other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. These conditions often coexist, creating a complex interplay that exacerbates patient outcomes. For instance, a person with diabetes is at higher risk for cardiovascular issues, and vice versa.

Globally, the incidence of cardiovascular disease among patients with type 2 diabetes is two to three times higher than among those without type 2 diabetes. Similarly, hypertension can both result from and contribute to the progression of kidney diseases. This interconnection underscores the necessity of integrated healthcare approaches to manage CKD alongside other NCDs.

What impact do you hope to have by expanding Healthy Heart Africa?

NCDs, including heart and kidney diseases, are rapidly escalating in Africa. All too often, they are underdiagnosed, undertreated and their interconnections are under-recognised, affecting and claiming millions of lives every year.

NCDs are also exacerbated by climate change, with extreme heat adding stress to the human body and impairing the function of these vital organs. For instance, the carbon intensity of chronic kidney disease treatments, such as dialysis, contributes significantly to carbon emissions, further stressing the need for sustainable healthcare solutions. The detrimental effects underscore the urgent need to integrate broader health strategies to combat these diseases more effectively.

That’s why Healthy Heart Africa is stepping up its efforts. Building on a decade of impact, the programme is tackling the growing burden by broadening its scope to include both heart and kidney diseases. This expansion underscores the importance AstraZeneca places on education and awareness programmes, screening and early diagnosis and sustainable healthcare that aim to improve the resiliency and sustainability of health systems in Africa, and ultimately enhance the well-being of all people across the continent.

By prioritizing access to care for underserved populations, the initiative aims to improve the resiliency and sustainability of health systems in Africa, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to achieve better health outcomes and ultimate enhance the well-being of all people across the continent.

This Q&A is supported by AstraZeneca

Image Credits: Fred Merz.

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