Why you’re more likely to die of stroke than HIV or cancer

John Maina was a healthy farmer in Murang’a. His routine involved waking up early to tend to his one cow, water some vegetables in his small garden and later work on his expansive coffee farm. For a 74-year-old man, such a routine was no small feat.

All that changed one evening in June this year. While preparing to go to bed, he fell on the doorway and became unconscious. When he woke up, he had just undergone some surgery at Kenyatta National Hospital to remove a clot in his head. Maina had suffered a stroke after years of battling hypertension. He recovered, albeit with a speech impediment, a noticeable limp and poor mobility on the right arm. Many stroke victims are not that fortunate.

Permanently disabled

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Walk down the street, look out your window or just take a glance around your office, one out of every six people you see will suffer from stroke in their lifetime.

Statistics from the World Stroke Organisation show that 17 million people worldwide suffer a stroke each year. A third of these people die while another third are permanently disabled.

In developing countries, stroke is responsible for more deaths than HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined while in developed nations such as the United States, the disease is the third most common cause of death, exceeded only by cancer and heart disease, where it claims a life every three minutes.

Alarmed by these statistics, neurologists met in Nairobi last month during the World Stroke Day to deliberate on the growing burden of the disease in Kenya. Among other things, the experts focused on developing stroke-ready hospitals with optimised processes of care, a deep analysis of gaps in strokecare, benchmarking against best practices, and the development of requisite protocols. Dr Dilraj Sokhi, the chairman of the Neurology Society of Kenya, said many patients in the country simply do not have access to specialised care to help deal with stroke symptoms.

The situation, he adds, is due to a combination of both patient and emergency services response as well as hospital system factors.

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“The burden of stroke in Kenya and in sub-Saharan Africa has been shown to be high and is increasing. For example, symptoms of stroke are not recognised or taken seriously. Then there are in-hospital delays in assessment and treatment, and the distances patients have to travel to get to a unit that can provide stroke care,” says Dr Sokhi.

He says neurologists and physicians need to work together to inform national policy making and standardise stroke care.

Ayman Eissa, head of Human Pharma at Boehringer Ingelheim in Sub-Saharan Africa, said awareness and the establishment of best practices for stroke management are key to closing the gap in the treatment of stroke victims.

Stroke centres

“At Boehringer Ingelheim, we are proud to support and enable the creation of a network of stroke-ready hospitals and strokecentres. We aspire to support facilities to develop strokecentres and drive the implementation of dedicated stroke care centres across the region,” he says.

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Currently, the initiative covers hospitals in 41 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America.

The Angels Initiative was officially introduced in Kenya at a doctor’s special workshop in Nairobi.

Dr ChrispineOduor from Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital says the establishment of stroke centres will mitigate the growing health concern and facilitate quick treatment of patients.

“Apart from driving awareness, we must establish a network of fully equipped stroke care centers that aim at driving better patient outcomes across Kenya,” added Oduor.

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