Chronic diseases and health promotion

Overview - Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment

Misunderstanding #6. Story of Menaka Seni

MISUNDERSTANDING #6: chronic diseases affect primarily men

Certain chronic diseases, especially heart disease, are often viewed as primarily affecting men. The truth is that chronic diseases, including heart disease, affect women and men almost equally.

Projected global coronary heart disease deaths by sex, all ages, 2005
Getting back on track: Menaka Seni, 60 years old, India (diabetes, heart disease)
Some 3.6 million women will die from coronary heart disease in 2005. More than eight out of 10 of these deaths will occur in low and middle income countries.

Menaka Seni, 60 years old, India, had bypass surgery following a heart attack last year – exactly a year after her husband died from one – and survived the tsunami which devastated her neighbourhood in December 2004. Despite these ordeals, she has been able to "get back on track", she says, and to make positive changes to her life. Shortly after her husband's death, Menaka started taking daily walks to the temple, but was still eating unhealthily at the time of her heart attack. "I may be one of the privileged who could seek the best medical treatment, but what really matters from now on is how I behave," she argues. Menaka has been eating more fish, fruit and vegetables since the surgery.

Related to her heart disease and diabetes, Menaka is overweight and suffers from high blood pressure. "Taking medication for my heart and diabetes helps but it takes more than that. You also need to change behaviour to lower your health risks," she explains. Menaka recently turned 60 and is successfully managing both her diet and daily physical activity. The medical staff who took care of her while she was recovering in hospital played a key role in convincing her of the benefits of eating well and exercising regularly.