In most populations, more than 40% of adults aged 25 and over suffer from high blood pressure, a disease which, if left untreated, has unparalleled potential to kill and disable, inflict enormous suffering and significantly undermine quality of life.

Millions of people across the world – a majority of them poor – needlessly suffer from the crippling consequences of untreated high blood pressure, such as stroke, kidney failure, heart disease and blindness. For a disease of its magnitude, the lack of proper attention it deserves is beyond reason.

Scant efforts to promote population-wide high blood pressure screening by health workers, exclusion of blood pressure lowering medicines from a country’s essential medicines lists, industry inattention to the production of low-cost generic versions and neglect of dietary salt reduction are among some of the missed opportunities to tackle a problem of unprecedented scale with equally unparalleled cost-effective solutions.

It is precisely for these reasons that global attention to the problem of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is needed.

The UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs in 2011 set the momentum for the inclusion of NCDs as a post-2015 goal (after the Millennium Development Goals come to term). Global health and development agencies have also stepped up their efforts. These are important early steps in a long battle against the world’s foremost killer; partnerships and societal action will matter the most.

High blood pressure is both preventable and treatable – health-promoting lifestyles, physical activity, quitting smoking, a healthy diet and optimal body weight help manage high blood pressure as well as protect heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung conditions and some cancers.

People, communities, governments, the private sector and civil society all have a role to play in enabling people to live longer and healthier.

In a series of blog posts curated by the World Economic Forum’s Health Team, a number of leading voices present their perspectives on health and healthcare in the run-up to World Health Day on 7 April. 

Sania Nishtar is Founding President of Heartfile and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Well-being and Mental Health

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