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Patients speak out at launch of first Egyptian heart failure association

Heart disease is the leading killer of Egyptians, but many know little about the risk of heart failure

Ingy Deif, Monday 4 Apr 2016
Launch of EACHEP, Egypt
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"The world just turned black to me," said Ahmed Badawi, 52, describing his reaction when he was diagnosed with heart failure two years ago.

Heart failure, a condition where the weakening of the heart muscle causes health problems, is extremely common in Egypt, but hope is on the horizon for patients like Badawi.

On Thursday, the first-ever Egyptian organisation to support heart failure patients was launched at an event in Cairo.

The founders of Egyptian Association for Care of Heart Failure Patients (EACHFP), hope that it will be able to support those who suffer from the condition.

Badawi, who spoke at the event, believes that awareness of heart failure is important. 

"Now that I know more, things are getting a bit brighter and I am in a good place," he said.

Hend Soliman, 62, another heart failure patient who spoke about her experience at the launch of the association, said she was keen to raise awareness of the condition.

"I would do anything to reach out a helping hand to my fellow patients and help people be more aware of symptoms and risk factors,” she said.

“The average ago of Egyptians who suffer heart failure incidents is younger than their counterparts worldwide by almost a decade," said Soliman, who was diagnosed when she was just 39.

Heart failure is caused by the weakening of the heart muscle, which renders it incapable of doing the job of pumping blood to the rest of the body properly.

It is usually the result of a previous heart condition not treated properly. The chairman of EACHFP, Dr Mahmoud Hassanein, says that it is a major public health problem.

"Heart failure is among the heart diseases that are the leading cause of death in Egypt. Cancer comes next, followed by diseases of the respiratory system," he said.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in five people over 40 will develop heart failure in their lifetime, and 50 percent of those patients risk death within five years of diagnosis.

Over 80 percent of deaths take place in low and middle income countries.

The panel explained that the risk factors for heart failure such as smoking, obesity, hypertension and diabetes are are common in Egyptian society, and many are seldom detected.

"Of the 26 percent of Egyptians who suffer blood hypertension, only 30 percent know that they do, and of the latter figure only 8 percent get their blood pressure adjusted," Hassanein said.

In light of the mentioned alarming figures and lack of awareness and support, the founders of EACHFP say it is much needed.

"The EACHFP will help create registries that identify the pattern of heart failure in Egypt. It will also initiate training programmes for physicians on the basis for proper patient evaluation, management and rehabilitation," said Dr Mohammed Hassan, a lecturer in cardiology at Cairo University.

Despite the dangers, the risk of heart failure can be reduced, stressed Dr Magdi Abdel Hamid, the general-secretary of the Egyptian Society for Cardiology.

"If a person stays away from smoking, maintains a healthy weight and walks for 30 minutes three times a week, risk is reduced by a whopping 40 percent," he says.

"So awareness remains the key, but once heart failure occurs, lifestyle changes must ensue, and this brings psychological challenges.”

Abdel Hamid says that in Egypt 63 percent of heart failure patients suffer depression, so both they and their families need support.

Furthermore he added that new drugs are about to be introduced to the Egyptian market which will further reduce the risk of reoccurrence of heart failure by 20 percent, but the price will remain a challenge, and so creating a supportive society will open doors to facilitating access and affordability for this treatment.  

The founders of EACHFP also stress the importance of connecting with Egyptians on social media.

"When talking about raising awareness and reaching out to more people of younger generation, one cannot underestimate the role of social media," said Dr Soha Nazmy, who is in charge of the EACHFP Facebook page which supports those with the condition.

"We answer their questions, provide comfort for those uncertain of many aspects of the disease and its impact on their lives, and we always keep a positive note in what we post daily to help those living with the condition make healthy choices and be happy with them," she said. 

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