WHO global health days

Campaign essentials

World Health Day 2013: Control your blood pressure

Public health context

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally. They account for approximately 17 million deaths in the world each year.

Complications of high blood pressure, also called hypertension or raised blood pressure, account for more than nine million of these deaths, including about half of all deaths from heart disease and stroke. More than one in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure, with the proportion going up to one in two for people aged 50 and above. The number of people with high blood pressure rose from 600 million in 1980 to 1 billion in 2008.

Behind the statistics is a silent killer that can affect anyone; people often have no symptoms, and many are not even aware of their high blood pressure and the associated health risks. The result is that many go undiagnosed.

Many who are diagnosed do not have access to treatment, or their conditions are poorly controlled. Self-care – meaning actions or behaviours each person can take in his or her daily life – also plays an important role.

There is a social cost to this problem too. In some countries, money spent on cardiovascular diseases alone can be one fifth of the total health expenditure. Yet, millions of people forgo seeking care for high blood pressure in the early stages because they cannot afford it. The results are devastating for both families and health systems: early death, disability, personal and household disruption, loss of income, a diminished workforce, and medical care expenditures take their toll on families, communities and national health budgets.

Early detection and treatment are key, along with public policies and primary health-care services that educate and support people to prevent them from developing high blood pressure, and help those who do have high blood pressure to manage it effectively.

Addressing high blood pressure must be part of a larger effort to combat noncommunicable diseases at the primary care level.