Hypertension is highly present in South Africa with about 1 in 3 adults living with the chronic condition. According to the Heart Foundation, it’s responsible for 2 in every 5 heart attacks and 1 in every 2 strokes. So… pretty whoa.
This high number of affected people isn’t unique to South Africa. A report by the World Health Organization reveals that an estimated 1.13 billion people worldwide have hypertension – that’s almost 1 in every 7-8 people in the world!
With such a high number of affected people globally, knowing how COVID-19 affects a hypertensive patient has become a public health imperative and one study looked to offer an answer to this.
This was mainly prompted by a joint statement released by the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, and the Heart Failure Society of America.
“The continued highest standard of care for cardiovascular disease patients diagnosed with COVID-19 is top priority,” the statement read.
“But there is no experimental or clinical data demonstrating beneficial or adverse outcomes among COVID-19 patients using ACE-I or ARB medications. We urge urgent, additional research that can guide us to optimal care for the millions of people worldwide with cardiovascular disease and who may contract COVID-19. These recommendations will be adjusted as needed to correspond with the latest research.”
Almost two months after this statement was released, researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine released a study with a reassuring conclusion for hypertensive patients. The study concluded that there is no link between common blood pressure medication and COVID-19 risk.
The study specifically looked at these medications:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors)
- Angiotensin receptor blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
- Thiazide diuretics
For the study, the researchers analysed data from 12 594 individuals who had done a COVID-19 test. 5 894 of these tested positive for the virus and 1 002 of the positive cases experienced the disease severely.
Of the 12 594 individuals, 4357 had hypertension, and 2573 of those tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 2 537, 634 experienced a severe form of the virus.
When they looked for links and associations with the individuals’ medical histories, they found that there wasn’t any link to any hypertensive medication class and an increased risk of a positive COVID-19 test.
“Our findings should reassure the medical community and patients about the continued use of these commonly prescribed medications, which prevent potentially severe heart events in their own right,” Dr Harmony Reynolds, lead investigator of the study, said in a statement.
In another statement, the study’s senior author Dr Judith Hochman said that before this study, there was no experimental or experimental data demonstrating the consequences of using these medications in people at risk of COVID-19.
“In terms of next steps, our plan is to use similar approaches to investigate other medications and their relationship to COVID-19 illness.”
South Africa update
In his most recent national address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that consultations will soon start to move the majority of the country to level 3 lockdown at the end of May.
“We will immediately begin a process of consultation with the relevant stakeholders on the proposal that by the end of May, most of the country should be placed on alert level 3, but that those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on level 4,” he said.
The president also highlighted the number of lives that have been saved due to the implementation of the lockdown.
“The best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have taken, at least 80 000 South African could have been infected by now; the death toll could have at least been 8 times higher than it is.”
Currently (as of 14 May, 2020), South Africa has seen 4 745 recoveries of the 12 074 positive cases identified. There are still 7 110 active cases and 219 deaths.
The Western Cape province has, so far, been the hardest hit, accounting for more than half of the country’s positive cases identified. In response to this, Dr Zweli Mkhize, SA’s health minister tweeted:
“The challenge here is that EC (Eastern Cape) and WC (Western Cape) will get out of control if we don’t act. The strategy is clear. The focus now is on PPEs and we need to keep that focus.”
Towards the end of his address, the president also admitted that the implementation of some of the COVID-19 relief efforts had been… shaky.
“There may have been times when we have fallen short of your expectations; some of the actions we have taken have been unclear, some have been contradictory and some have been poorly explained,” he said.
“Implementation has sometimes been slow and enforcement has sometimes been inconsistent and too harsh. This evening I want to reaffirm my commitment and the commitment of the government I lead to take whatever action is necessary to safeguard the life, dignity, and the interests of the South African people.”
Read the full speech here.