“In rural areas, most people don’t believe it when someone my age says they have hypertension. That’s why, for all these years, I have silently lived with hypertension and only my family knows that I have it,” says Khodani Mpilo.
A Thohoyandou resident, Mpilo was diagnosed with hypertension at 25 but decided to keep the diagnosis within her family due to the stigma associated with the disease in rural communities. She says that people still associate hypertension with old age.
She is now 29 and has slowly come to terms with the chronic illness.
Family background of hypertension
Hypertension is a condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is abnormally high. It is also referred to as blood pressure above 140/90, and is considered severe if the pressure is above 180/120.
Per World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 1.13–billion people worldwide have hypertension, most living in low-and middle-income countries.
“I was diagnosed with hypertension when I was 25–years–old. Although I come from a family background of hypertension, as both my mother and grandmother live with it, but as I was still only 25, I got scared of what it meant to have hypertension at that age,” she says.
With youth month in full swing in South Africa, Mpilo encourages her fellow youth to celebrate by taking charge of their health by going for chronic illness screening.
“My advice to my fellow youth is that they must ensure that they go for health screening – even if it is once in a year, even when they are not sick. Diseases like hypertension are silent killers with few symptoms, and you can just wake up one day with stroke or heart attack. Let us make it a priority that we take care of our health all the times,” says Mpilo.
According to The Heart And Stroke Foundation South Africa, hypertension is one of the most serious risks factors for death from heart diseases and strokes and in South Africa more than a third of adults live with high blood pressure and it is responsible for half of the strokes the country faces, and two fifths of the heart attacks.
After witnessing her mom suffer a heart attack, Mpilo says the incident taught her to “take full charge of her health”. She takes pressure tablets daily, excercises when she has time and “developed a love for jogging which is helping me to stay fit and healthy”.
“Growing up as a full–figured woman, my doctor always had issues with my weight but after being told that I have to take pills for the rest of my life and having witnessed my mother’s heart attack, I knew that I had to take charge of my health,” she says.
‘Everyday life is a battle’
Despite being labelled as one of Covid-19 comorbidities, hypertension does not have any visible signs or symptoms, leaving many people unaware of their condition. But to those who have typically very high blood pressure symptoms such as headaches, nose bleeds, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and facial flushing can be experienced.
“It’s been a battle trying to exercise every now and then. I am someone who loves junk and unhealthy food, but I had to change my diet, which is something difficult to do and stick to. Everyday life is a battle, because I need to remember to take pills daily if I want to live longer and healthy”, added Mpilo.
Denial, ignorance, peer pressure
Phumudzo Themeli, a nurse who has years of experience in the health fraternity, says he has realised that denial, ignorance and peer pressure often keep the youth from going for health screening.
“Denial, ignorance and peer pressure are often-cited reasons why most young people are reluctant to go for health screenings, which often lead to late diagnoses. Taking charge of one’s health starts with going for regular check-ups for various diseases at local clinics, hospitals or doctors. Wherever I go, I always encourage people to go for regular check-ups,” says Themeli.
In the country’s latest health review, medical experts and health users denounced the lack of youth-friendly services. Despite the youth accounting for a third of the country’s population, according to Statistics South Africa, healthcare services are not designed to cater to their needs, the research shows.
The report states that the public health system needs to strengthen in a variety of ways to meet the unique needs of young people. This includes defining and monitoring indicators of universal health coverage, as well as keeping track of the quality of services that young people receive from public facilities. -Health-e News.