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Why do heart diseases hit harder in Africa?

 Africa is a unique case for this non-communicable disease; the reason being that NCD is spreading so rapidly. One reason for this spike in heart-related death is due to a lack of knowledge and education. Many of the people do not understand the burden of the disease or its consequences, thus they do not seek preventive care, help and treatment.

Additionally, there is a large service gap in cardiovascular treatments in Africa. Many medical institutions do not have the workforce and financial capacity to prevent and manage chronic heart disease. The lack of communication between the health institutions and the population often leads to the population seeking help for their heart symptoms when it is too late (Ouyang, 2014).

Not enough epidemiological research has been done on this continent to characterize the disease patterns and its distribution. Those who are burdened with deaths from cardiovascular disease are primarily female and predominantly from low-income regions (Keates, Mocumbi, Ntsekhe, Sliwa, & Stewart, 2017). This level of social injustice has attracted less attention from governing bodies and medical research to act on prevention strategies.

Lastly, many of those populations that have cardiovascular risk factors remain undiagnosed in the majority. In Africa, those who died from heart failure are still a younger segment of the population (Opie, 2006), conversely, in western society, cardiovascular death occurs at an older age. Hypertension or high blood pressure, is one of the first signs of a burdened heart, however, due to the lack of primary care in the African healthcare infrastructure, many Africans live with this risk factor unknowingly thus are more predisposed to sudden cardiac death. Consequently, the healthcare system has not caught up with the spread of cardiovascular disease to assist the population who do require immediate medical attention.

To reduce NCD in Africa, governments need to understand its urgency and must acquire a greater sense of responsibility to be more actively involved in developing prevention and treatment strategies. Government budgets need to be allocated towards formalized primary prevention plans for all NCDs including cardiovascular diseases. With the rapid movements towards westernized diet and efforts of medical improvements and healthcare must be sought as an essential part of development as well.


Lucy Chu is a graduate of the University of Toronto and is currently studying at the University of Waterloo as a Master of Health Evaluation Candidate. She works closely with world-renowned cardiologists as a clinical researcher at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre of Toronto General Hospital specializing in clinical investigation towards advancing the standard of care for heart failure patients. Additionally, Lucy’s past work at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has driven her interest in NCDs prevention through personal patient interactions and first-hand experiences.


Keates, A., Mocumbi, A., Ntsekhe, M., Sliwa, K., & Stewart, S. (2017). Cardiovascular disease in Africa: epidemiological profile and challenges. Nature Reviews Cardiology, 14:273-293.

Opie, L. (2006). Heart disease in Africa. The Lancet, 5-11: 449-450.

Ouyang, H. (2014, October 30). Africa's Top Health Challenge: Cardiovascular Disease. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from The Atlantic:



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