About 40,627 people in the country are living with hypertension, high blood pressure, according to data provided by the director of Health Promotion and Education Directorate of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
Hypertension is one of the several risk factors that can increase one’s chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and other serious conditions.
The figure, though high, is lower than the 55,563 people with hypertension in 2011.
World Health Organization has ranked hypertension as 12 among the top 20 causes of death in the Gambia.
The data from the Directorate of Health Promotion and Education was made available during a daylong sensitization workshop on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) prevention and control for journalists held at the conference room of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital in Banjul on 30 November 2012.
For diabetes, the data indicate that 3,337 people have the disease in 2011 and it has increased to 4,734 in 2012.
According to the WHO, diabetes is the 7 among top 20 causes of death in The Gambia.
The rate of diabetes in The Gambia is said to be alarming.
The Director of Health Promotion and Education, Modou Njai, said non-communicable diseases are of real concern to The Gambia government and the Ministry of Health and should be a concern to the general public as well.
The NCDs are becoming a problem in both developed and developing countries, he said, adding that NCDs now top the agenda of any health meeting both nationally and internationally.
Dr Jagne of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital said hypertension and diabetes, like other non-communicable diseases, are not only problems in terms of deaths but they also impose huge economic burden on both individuals and governments.
He said they put more burden on people than infectious diseases do.
He said a person living with diabetes, hypertension and other non-communicable disease would need counseling, treatment, support, and medical investigation every month, which are costly.
Dr Kebba S. Bojang, Department of Internal Medicine at the RVTH, said the two most common NCDs seen at the hospital are hypertension and diabetes.
In a presentation on diet-related NCDs, Isatou Jeng of National Nutrition Agency, said hypertension patient, if overweight, should prioritise weight loss.
She said a hypertension patient should reduce sodium intake.
“This can be achieved by using less salt in cooking or adding less salt to food, and decreasing the consumption of processed foods,” she said.
She said hypertension patient should take more of fruits and vegetables, which elevate potassium intake in addition to their cardio-protective properties.
Alcohol consumption should not exceed 1-2 units a day and less may be advisable in people who are overweight, she noted.
For diabetes, Mrs Jeng noted that mortality rate is higher in people with diabetes than in their non-diabetic counterparts.
Although some deaths still occur from the effects of diabetes, most results from the chronic complications are associated with the disease.
On the nutritional recommendations for diabetic patients, she said a meal pattern of three evenly sized meals and three smaller snacks per day is ideal, but this will vary between individuals according to the demands of medication, lifestyle and individual preference.
“The important aspect is that an appropriate meal pattern, whatever that is for a particular person, remains relatively constant from day to day,” she said.
“Bread, cereal foods and potatoes should form the largest component of meals and snacks. Quantity and timing is important. These need to be fairly constant from day to day.”
She said fruits and vegetables have major health benefits for people with diabetes.
She also said a diabetes patient should reduce the intake of salt, and also should be more physically active.
The patient should keep to a minimum consumption of fat-rich and sugar-rich foods.
Momodou Gassama, Health Promotion officer of WHO Country Office in The Gambia, said NCDs, including hypertension and diabetes, are the world’s number one killer, causing 60% of deaths globally.
He said NCDs are chronic and expensive to deal with, saying they are projected to cost the world some US47 trillion by 2050.