Communities for Healthy Hearts in Vietnam uses local volunteers and businesses to help people with hypertension discover their condition and take steps to manage it
Today, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Provincial Health Department (PHD), international global health organization PATH, and the Novartis Foundation presented the final results of the Communities for Healthy Hearts project, which has been working to improve hypertension prevention, detection, referral, diagnosis, and management for adults living in 16 residential areas of four districts of HCMC.
Since June 2016, Communities for Healthy Hearts’ innovative model has led to hypertension screenings for more than 120,000 people—over 50 percent of the population of people aged 40 and over in the project districts. Of those who had elevated blood pressure, approximately 55 percent were subsequently diagnosed with hypertension, of which more than 70 percent are now receiving treatment.
Communities for Healthy Hearts was established to draw on international best practices and local innovation in developing, testing, and incubating novel models of hypertension service delivery that strengthen primary health care options, bring services closer to home for people at risk or affected by hypertension, and engage multiple sectors in an effort to both increase access and affordability without burdening the public health system.
Hypertension—or high blood pressure, as it is commonly known—is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, which contribute to approximately 33 percent of all deaths in Vietnam each year. It is a chronic condition that people need to manage for the rest of their lives, but often there are few symptoms until a serious complication, like a stroke, arises. People need to know how to check for hypertension, where to get help and ongoing care, and how to prevent it in the first place.
“Hypertension is currently one of the biggest threats to public health in Vietnam,” said Dr. Truong Dinh Bac, deputy director general of GDPM. “The government of Vietnam adopted the National NCD [Noncommunicable Disease] Prevention and Management Strategy in 2015, which includes a target to contain the proportion of adults with hypertension to less than 30 percent by 2025 and reduce the premature death rate due to NCDs by 20 percent in 2025. Platforms like Communities for Healthy Hearts are helping the MOH to develop nationwide plans to achieve these targets.”
Dr. Nguyen Tri Dung, director of HCMC Center for Disease Control, said: “Through blood pressure checkpoints set up in residential areas—in people’s homes and in small businesses like coffee shops and nail salons—people can get screened for hypertension. If they have elevated blood pressure, they are referred to public and private health facilities, which have been supported to provide high-quality, standardized services by Communities for Healthy Hearts, for early diagnosis and treatment. Collaborators, an extended network of volunteers coordinated by community health stations, also serve as mobile blood pressure checkpoints and follow up with people who have elevated blood pressure to ensure they seek diagnosis, follow treatment plans, and take steps to lead healthy lifestyles. This early detection of hypertension and ongoing support for people with or at risk of the condition is key to reducing the risk of further complications.”
“Thanks to the Communities for Healthy Hearts collaborators, I came to my neighbor Mrs. Tao [a collaborator] to check my blood pressure. My systolic number was more than 160 mmHg,” said Mr. Thach, who lives in District 8 in Ho Chi Minh City. “After I got that reading, I came to the local clinic to get a diagnosis, and every two weeks I go back for checkups and to collect my medication. I also changed my diet, which was very hard to do! I used to eat very salty food, but gradually, my family has reduced our salt intake and my tastes have changed to enjoy food made with less salt.”
After diagnosis, a major challenge for people living with hypertension and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is managing their condition in the long term. Communities for Healthy Hearts used digital systems to support health workers and people with hypertension manage the condition in the long term.
“One of the most exciting elements Communities for Healthy Hearts developed was the eHTN.Tracker,” said Jason Shellaby, from the Novartis Foundation. “This digital patient tracker for people with hypertension enables health workers to quickly and easily track and follow up with people diagnosed with or at risk of hypertension, so they don’t fall through the gaps if they miss an appointment, and also connects with an SMS service to remind people to follow their treatment and self-care regimens. Together with community-based approaches and new private-sector partners with extensive reach, like Pharmacity and social enterprise Glink, digital health innovations have the capacity to greatly accelerate progress towards Vietnam’s targets for universal health coverage.”
Communities for Healthy Hearts was one of the programs in Vietnam to address the concerning rise in NCDs in the country. Now the vision for the team behind Communities for Healthy Hearts is to support the government of Vietnam to use these tools, experiences, and lessons learned to support others across Vietnam to prevent, detect, and control hypertension and other NCDs, such as diabetes.
“Over the past three years, we have been working with diverse stakeholders to develop, test, and document new approaches to hypertension awareness, detection, diagnosis, and management,” said Dr. Nguyen Tuyet Nga, PATH’s Vietnam country director. From here, we will continue to work with the General Department of Preventive Medicine, with support from Access Accelerated, to refine this community-based, person-centered model, strengthen the primary health care services that are key to its success, work with policymakers to ensure an enabling environment, and enhance national NCD health information systems to make convenient, high-quality, and affordable NCD services a tangible reality for the thousands of people affected across Vietnam.”
PATH is a global organization that works to accelerate health equity by bringing together public institutions, businesses, social enterprises, and investors to solve the world’s most pressing health challenges. With expertise in science, health, economics, technology, advocacy, and dozens of other specialties, PATH develops and scales solutions—including vaccines, drugs, devices, diagnostics, and innovative approaches to strengthening health systems worldwide. Learn more at www.path.org.
Communities for Healthy Hearts is part of PATH’s broader strategy to improve access to prevention and care for noncommunicable diseases using innovative tools and approaches to increase availability of essential medicines and technologies and integrate NCD care into existing systems and services.
About the Novartis Foundation
The Novartis Foundation (NF) is a philanthropic organization that aims to have a transformational and sustainable impact on the health of low-income communities. NF tackles global health challenges through a mix of programmatic work, health outcomes research, and their translation into policy. NF convenes local and global partners and works with them hand in hand to catalyze sustainable health care models to improve access and health outcomes. Digital technology has the power to innovate the way health care is delivered, while ensuring people remain at the center of care, and is a key enabler in all NF programs. Grounded in evidence and evaluation, NF continually evaluates and adapts programs to achieve the greatest impact. Learn more at www.novartisfoundation.org.
About Ho Chi Minh City Provincial Health Department
The HCMC PHD is an agency of the HCMC People’s Committee, which is responsible for advising and assisting the People’s Committee in the management of public health programs and services, including preventive medicine, medical examinations and treatment, medical equipment, pharmaceutical services, health insurance, family planning, reproductive health, and other health services and requirements in HCMC. Learn more at http://www.medinet.hochiminhcity.gov.vn/gioi-thieu-c1.aspx.