It is estimated that over 41 million Nigerians are hypertensive as at today. This figure is expected to increase over time, hence the need for a renewed effort and an urgent action to tackle the scourge.
Hypertension is a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure is elevated. It is also referred to as high blood pressure. Medically, hypertension is defined as blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg based on two readings on separate occasions in an adult.
The disease is taken to be the most common cardiovascular condition in Nigeria and the problem of defining a strategy for its control and prevention confronts the society at the present time.
National Biotechnology Agency development agency, (NABDA) plans to set up a centre for the study of the genetic and environmental determinants of blood pressure and associated cardiovascular phenotypes especially amongst Nigerians.
Director General of NABDA, Prof. Bamidele Solomon said, this is part of efforts to fight and stem the tide of this ugly menace.
“It is really our ultimate desire to have a centre that will study the genetic basis of various diseases and the first one we are looking at now is on this issue of hypertension which we know that tends to move from children to their offspring,” he said. “So if it travels within the family, we should be able to track down the gene that is responsible for such and may be we should be able to proffer solution to it,” Solomon said at a lecture on titled ‘European project of gene in hypertension – Findings using echocardiographic phenotyping,” held recently in Abuja.
The agency is therefore working to use biotechnology to provide affordable health care for Nigerians. This project is in tandem with the mandate of NABDA which includes the molecular study of the basis of diseases, disease surveillance, disease prevention, treatment and vaccine development.
Solomon said NABDA is being challenged by the fact that despite recent advances in understanding and treating hypertension, its prevalence continues to rise, due partly to the fact that the molecular basis of the disease remains poorly understood.
“NABDA will take advantages of new technologies that are rapidly driving down the cost of DNA sequencing and step into genetics and genomic basis of hypertension in Nigeria. We are poised to build a rich catalog of genetic variants that will ultimately help researchers across the world understand causes of the disease in humans.”
For the study, the Lugbe community in Abuja will be used as a case study and arrangements have been concluded by the traditional rulers of the village. Their blood pressure will be checked and some level of assistance will be provided to those already diagnosed of hypertension.
The tests at the study centre will be handled because whenever humans are used for experiment, there are ethical paths that have to be followed.
The laboratory for this project is about 75 per cent completed. And the DG revealed that a research office which will also serve as the consulting room has been provided. They have already started purchasing furniture including some items of equipment for the centre. Everything is expected to be ready within this first quarter.
Establishment of the centre will be a tripartite arrangement between NABDA, the University of Abuja as well as European project of gene in hypertension.
Head, division of hypertension and cardiovascular rehabilitation, department of Cardiovascular Diseases, Unversity of Leuven, Belgium, Prof. Jan Staessen, who delivered the lecture told journalists that “the main thrust of the lecture is that we really have to measure risk factors in the general population because a lot of people have cardiovascular disease here and they die prematurely. Now to avoid this problem we need to do prevention but before we can do prevention we need to know what is actually causing cardiovascular disease, the risk factors and the environment factors.”
He add that there were some genetic factors that could make people much susceptible to get increase in blood pressure but that healthy habits such as taking care of the blood pressure, avoiding cholesterol and smoking were important in reducing the incidence of hypertension.
Provost of the College of Medicine, University of Abuja, Prof. Asala Samuel, acknowledged the university would make positive contribution to the project.
“It is a new relationship we are crafting. We have not had the opportunity to take any major step.”
He expressed optimism that positive steps will soon be taken when the school authorities had studied the document and the vice chancellor is furnished with the details.
Head of department of medicine, University of Abuja, Dr Felicia Anumah, said what is happening in Nigeria, like any developing country is that there was double burden of disease on one side. There are the infections like malaria, HIV, Tuberclosis and now we are seeing a monster that is roaring its head and it is the non communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
Anumah said, these diseases occur because of change in lifestyle.
“As we become westernised and adopt western way of living, we are also acquiring the diseases of westernization. Presently, the prevalence of hypertension in Nigeria is 25 per cent, the unfortunate thing is that quite a large number do not even know they are because it is not our style to go for medical checkup. We believe it is a waste of time and money.”
She agreed that there is usually a hereditary component in diabetes and hypertension. For example, if one’s parents have diabetes, each of the children will be positive through the course of their lives. If this person knows and he is educated, as early as possible the person begins to live right, he can avoid becoming diabetic.
On the Research centre, she said they will contribute in identifying the people in this ( community, Lugbe, map them out and study their phenotype and also look at their genes, what is it that is different and also with an eye on prevention.