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‘Shift in dietary practices needed to fight epidemic of heart diseases in Pakistan’

By News Desk
January 15, 2020

Dietary practices are a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in Pakistan because health practitioners have difficulty translating international recommendations according to local diet. 

In the absence of any national data on dietary consumption, health practitioners are unaware of what people are consuming. There is a need for an operational policy and an action plan to promote healthy eating and active lifestyle, speakers noted at the First Cardiovascular Conference ‘Pulse 2020’ held at the Aga Khan University.

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in Pakistan, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, and the country has committed to reducing the burden of such diseases by a third by 2030 under Goal 3 of the sustainable development goals.

According to a press release issued by the Aga Khan University on Tuesday, experts at the three-day conference stressed that the epidemic poses many challenges in the country due to the high cost of diagnosis and treatment and lack of prevention knowledge among patients.

“Health is a partnership between a patient and his/her doctor, so empowerment has to happen from both ends,” said Dr Saira Bukhari, an assistant professor of cardiology in the department of medicine. “Right choices in dietary practices need to be picked by patients and advised by health professionals.”

There have been well-designed studies in the last few years which have found that diets which are inclined towards one set of nutrients as opposed to others, don’t work and do more harm than good. “Such dietary practices are in contradiction to how the human body functions. It is all about having a diet of moderation,” said Dr Romaina Iqbal, associate professor and section head for non-communicable diseases, NCDs, in the department of community health sciences at the Aga Khan University.

Dr Iqbal recommended eating a balanced diet composed of complex carbohydrates, a variety of nutrients along with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise for adults of all ages. Speakers noted that numerous dietary plans catch media’s attention and people adopt them.

Experts stressed that health practitioners need to introduce the language of prevention with patients. Knowledge of symptoms of cardiovascular diseases such as chest pain, shortage of breath, unusual heart beat and loss of consciousness are some of the indicators that patients should be informed about.

Dr Bukhari said that ideas promoting stereotypical notions of age and health such as how cholesterol and blood pressure numbers should be at a particular age should be discouraged. Patients need to be enabled to make informed choices of their health because every delayed intervention increases the chance of heart attacks and even stroke, she added.

Keynote speaker Dr Faiez Zannad, a cardiologist and clinical pharmacologist at Université de Lorraine in France, said global progress in treating heart failure has been spectacular in the last 25 years with mortality declining threefold in dedicated clinical trials. He said that evidence from global clinical trials show income inequality as a factor determining clinical outcomes in heart failure.

“It is desirable that patients and investigators from Pakistan get involved in global trials and join the efforts of knowledge production,” he said. Two other keynote speakers who spoke at the conference were Dr Jospeh Kisslo, professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, and Eric Velazquez, professor of medicine at Yale University.

The conference was held in collaboration between the AKU’s section of cardiology and the department of medicine, the Association of Pakistani-descent Cardiologists of North America, the Pakistan Hypertension League and the Pakistan Aspirin Foundation. The event was attended cardiologists, postgraduate students, nurses, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals.