The increase of heart attacks in Kenya is worrying. Studies show that 25 per cent of medical admissions in the country are due to cardiovascular disease with heart attack, stroke and heart failure contributing to the majority.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) also accounts for 13 per cent of hospital deaths. The fact that Kenyans in their 20s and 30s are now experiencing heart attacks means we can no longer afford to ignore this growing risk to our future health and well-being.
The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to the body including major organs like the brain and kidneys and also to itself. The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart. Any sudden blockage of a major coronary artery results to a heart attack. The most common causes of heart artery blockage are blood clots. If the blood supply to the heart is not urgently restored, the heart may stop pumping, and death follows.
Signs of heart attack
Signs of suffering from a heart attack include sharp pains in the chest with a sense of impending doom. The distress may also be felt in the arms, jaws and neck. Sometimes, it feels like ‘gas’ in the upper stomach, sweating and shortness of breath. Anyone suffering from these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention.
Diagnosis and associated challenges
Unfortunately, many heart attacks are not diagnosed and do not receive timely treatment in Kenya. This is because patients, or caregivers may fail to recognise the importance of the symptoms and not seek assistance. The other challenges are poor accessibility of acute medical services for the majority of the population and financial barriers.
Heart attack diagnosis and treatment is also hindered by lack of facilities in the country.
Initiatives like the Heart Attack Concern Kenya (Hack) are moving to address these challenges with a protocol of “systems of care” for efficient management of heart attacks and integrated networks of facilities. The emphasis is to work with the government, ambulance services and medical societies to increase access to timely life-saving treatment.
In addition to working with Hack and ensuring that there are systems in place, the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi (AKUH) has been granted the Clinical Care Program Certification (CCPC) by the Joint Commission International making it a Centre of Excellence in the management of heart attacks.
To receive this certification, the hospital developed systems and care pathways to allow easy implementation of protocols in the treatment of heart attack patients. This rigorous process took more than three years to complete.
Managing heart attack
Once a heart attack happens, speed is of the essence as heart muscle begins to die within the first hour. The goal of treatment is to re-establish blood supply to the heart within 60 minutes.
To beat the clock, AKUH put up a highly organised team of specialised nurses and doctors that can make quick diagnosis and provide expert treatment using clot busters, or specialised catheters to open the blocked artery. This team is available to provide the service 24 hours a day.
A care protocol also had to be put in place. This includes a set of systems that enable early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.
Since this team and systems were put in place, the hospital has treated over 100 heart attack patients.