Ann’s Blog – Better Hearts Better Cities: Launching a multisector effort to combat hypertension in low-income urban communities
Jan 09, 2017
Today is World Hypertension Day 2017, a chance for all of us who care deeply about public health to train the spotlight on one of the world’s most acute and pervasive health threats. Known as “the silent killer,” hypertension is no less dangerous for usually being asymptomatic. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke or kidney failure and is the prime risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which takes more than 10 million lives each year.
Together with a unique set of partners, including Intel Corporation, the NCD Alliance, city governments and others, we are proud to mark this important day by announcing the launch of Better Hearts Better Cities, an ambitious initiative to tackle hypertension and its root causes in low-income urban communities.
We know all too well that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer present the new global health crisis. Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) bear more than their share of the burden, accounting for almost 75% of deaths from NCDs.
Meanwhile, rapid urbanization has changed how people experience disease, with city dwellers increasingly leading lifestyles that involve unhealthy eating, low physical activity, high stress levels and excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption. These trends are part of a complex web of factors fueling NCDs, from transport and workplace practices to air pollution and the food supply, often worsening health inequities and overtaxing already under-resourced infrastructure and services in LMICs.
At the Novartis Foundation, we realize the complex nature of NCDs makes achieving impact, scale and sustainability extremely difficult. In addition, while study-based pilot methods have proven effective in testing new approaches and generating evidence for addressing their root causes, these can take a long time to achieve scale and become sustainable. Yet the sheer burden of NCDs, particularly in LMICs, means we cannot delay our response. No single actor can tackle hypertension successfully alone – so multisector, multidisciplinary innovation is needed. This is why we have launched Better Hearts Better Cities.
By convening partners both beyond and within the health sector, we aim to operate at scale from the outset. From food suppliers through digital and telecommunication organizations to health authorities, employers and city planners, our partners and we each plan to contribute complementary expertise and resources to co-design and implement ways to improve cardiovascular health.
This approach will be tested in cities on three continents: in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in Dakar, Senegal, and in a city in Brazil to be announced later this year. As barriers to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of hypertension vary from place to place, we are giving each city plenty of room to tailor interventions to local needs, whether that means innovating the way care is provided to patients with chronic diseases, encouraging exercise and healthy nutrition in schools and workplaces, or taking steps to improve air quality.
Less than 2% of total development aid for health is allocated to fighting NCDs; we chose to target hypertension because of the troubling incongruence between the ample body of evidence on how to prevent, treat and manage the condition and the large proportion of people, especially in low- and middle-income settings, who suffer from it.