Health, Africa

Heart ailments become Zimbabwe’s new headache

Zimbabwe contends with increasing cases as World Heart Day commemorated

Jeffrey Moyo   | 28.09.2021
Heart ailments become Zimbabwe’s new headache

HARARE, Zimbabwe 

Six years ago, Letiwe Nyoni was hit by a paralyzing stroke that left her wheelchair-bound.

As if that was not enough, Nyoni, 52, was fired from her job at a top non-governmental organization in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.

Yet still, it never rains but pours for the married mother of three who has to contend with the unending pain of watching her 81-year-old mother battle a heart ailment, which has kept the elderly woman confined to her daughter’s home.

Heart battle

Nyoni and her mother have had to battle similar problems, with Nyoni having suffered heart complications before her stroke.

Apart from taking stroke medication, Nyoni also has to endure taking pills to mitigate her heart condition.

“It’s a disease that I have and heart diseases are prevalent in Zimbabwe, but because these are not communicable, people don't talk much about them. From my experience, heart diseases seem linked to other chronic diseases like high blood pressure,” Nyoni told Anadolu Agency.

Pounded by a heart ailment, Nyoni’s mother, Ratidzo Chivandire, also has had to battle high blood pressure for years.

“My mother has had to suffer from heart complications alongside high blood pressure for many years now. Since I was a little girl and now, I'm over 50 years of age and my mum has lived on medication for her heart condition and high blood pressure all these years. She has been hospitalized many times and has been on the verge of death many times,” said Nyoni.

Adherence to medication is the way

What has kept her mother going despite battling a severe heart condition, is what Nyoni claimed is her strict adherence to medication.

“My mother religiously takes her medication and so she has lived this long, but had she been unable to do this, which is the case with many people, she would be dead by now,” said Nyoni.

Unlike thousands of Zimbabweans with similar conditions, wasted away with heart diseases, Nyoni and Chivandire are lucky to be alive because they have ready support for their medical conditions in a country where 90% of the population is unemployed.

Few accessing medications

“My mother and I are on medical aid and my siblings working abroad always chip in with medical drugs for our treatment, which for us is a different story since most people here with similar conditions don’t have the means to access treatment,” said Nyoni.

Nyoni and her mother contend with heart ailments at a time the world commemorates the World Heart Day on Sept. 29.

An annual observance which is the brainchild of the World Heart Federation, the day was set to increase public awareness of cardiovascular diseases.

Formed in 1972, the World Heart Federation is an NGO based in Geneva and merged with the International Cardiology Federation to form the International Society and Federation of Cardiology in 1978.

Heart ailments rising

The number of people in Zimbabwe suffering from heart ailments like Nyoni and her mother is escalating.

According to the latest World Health Organization data published in 2018, coronary heart disease deaths in Zimbabwe stood at 5,896 or 4.96% of total deaths.

Heart-related fatalities have even been worse globally, according to Belinda Pfende, the head of Stroke Organization Zimbabwe (SOZ).

“Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, with 75% of them being in middle- and low-income countries like Zimbabwe. Thirty-nine percent of deaths by non-communicable diseases are due to cardiovascular diseases,” Pfende told Anadolu Agency. “In Zimbabwe, there is an increase in cardiovascular diseases due to behavioral risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol.”

COVID-19 to blame

But the coronavirus pandemic is also to blame for mounting heart ailments here, according to Pfende.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have become more sedentary due to the movement restrictions which come with lockdowns and working from home and thus increasing the prevalence of obesity,” she said.

For Nyoni, who said she has seen many people succumbing to heart disease in her lifetime, “heart diseases are affecting and killing both the young and the old as people have to contend with ailments like diabetes which go hand-in-hand with heart complications.”

Not enough being done to fight heart diseases

Yet for Zimbabwean heart ailments activists like 32-year-old Petina Mhunga based in Harare, little is being done to surmount the plight of those with heart complications.

“So many are deaths that now occur in Zimbabwe due to heart diseases. Heart patients are having little or no medical drugs to help them deal with their situations and as a result, they face very uncertain futures,” Mhunga told Anadolu Agency.

She said she lost her mother and two sisters three years ago to heart complications, who, unlike Nyoni and Chivandire, never had access to medication.

Exorbitant costs

According to the Heart Foundation of Zimbabwe, heart surgery is complex and very expensive, costing $4,000 for an adult and an estimated $6,000 for open-heart surgery.

This, said Mhunga, her mother and sisters could not afford before they died.

But as many become casualties of heart ailments, Pfende said, “In Zimbabwe, there are not enough initiatives to screen the population and detect cardiovascular diseases as early as possible so that management with counseling and medicines can begin.”

Late diagnosis not helping matters

“So many cases are only detected when the disease has advanced and, in some cases, with complications,” said Pfende.

With many like Mhunga’s mother and siblings killed by heart complications, Pfende also said “there is a barrier of affordability of medicines and care for those living with cardiovascular diseases.”

As such committee members for the SOZ, like Simon Chifamba, said it is harder handling heart ailments.

“Having a heart problem in Zimbabwe is a challenge. It’s like a death sentence, more so when you are going to public hospitals, with the process alone quite stressful and you know if one suffers from a heart challenge, one doesn’t need to be stressed,” Chifamba told Anadolu Agency.

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