Aggrey Wafula, 26, sweats profusely as he cycles outside the National Archives. People cheer on as he and seven others keep pedalling to clock up as many kilometres as possible in 10 minutes on a stationery exercise bike. But today, Wafula is not doing his routine exercise or cycling for the fun of it. He is cycling to raise awareness for a cause that is close to his heart, heart disease.
“I lost my elder and only brother to cardiac arrest and he died right before our eyes as we took him to hospital,” he painfully remembers. Like Wafula and his family, experts say that many people in Kenya have no idea what to do if someone were having a heart attack right in front of them. Besides that, they would not tell it if someone was having one. Heart attack is one of the leading causes of death in the world.
Dr Mohamed Jeilan, director of Cardiac Services at Aga Khan University Hospital says in Kenya, latest projections suggest that coronary artery disease is the sixth leading cause of death and by 2030, it will be on the top of the chart. He says that regular screening, timely access to life-saving drugs and trained personnel in health facilities are key to avert deaths linked to heart ailments.
“Most of these deaths take place, because proper first-aid or medical attention is not given between the time the person has the attack and the time the person reaches the hospital. That is why it is important for everyone to know how and what to do, as soon as a person is suspected to have had a heart attack,” he says. He warns that if immediate first-aid is not given to a heart attack patient, there may be permanent damage or a cardiac arrest.
“A person’s best chance of survival is to receive a defibrillator shock within five minutes of collapse with chances of survival reducing by 10 per cent every minute. After 10 minutes, few attempts at resuscitation are successful.
However, a defibrillator will not save every person who experiences Sudden Cardiac Arrest, but more lives could be saved if those affected are reached quickly,” he says. It is for this reason that in commemoration of Heart Awareness Month, and World Heart Day, Philips East Africa Limited in collaboration with the Kenya Red Cross launched a campaign dubbed Back to Rhythm aimed at creating public awareness around cardiac health in Kenya and increasing the chances of survival of victims of Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest occurs when the electrical system of the heart is disrupted causing it to stop beating unexpectedly. Warning signs of a heart attack Jeilan notes, are chest discomfort, pain and discomfort in the arms, jaws, the back or neck, shortness of breath, sweating and lightheadedness among others. He says, a heart attack can happen to anyone regardless of age or sex or economic status.
In fact, research has shown that more attacks happen in low and middle class countries. Through the event’s 10-minute challenge extended to the residents of Nairobi to ride bikes placed at a strategic location outside of the National Archives Building in Nairobi city centre, the challenge is to pedal for 10 minutes and achieve 152 kilometres for Philips to provide up to a maximum of 10 Automated External Defibrillator’s (AED) to the Kenya Red Cross.
An AED is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore normal rhythm. The Philips HeartStart defibrillators have a simple design, portable and guide the user through the resuscitation process using a clear, calm voice and audible instructions that acts as a personal coach.
The user of the AED does not need to recognize or interpret heart rhythms, the AED does so automatically, making the treatment option safe and easy to use, with minimal training.
Philips Africa CEO Jasper Westerink said the company’s Back to Rhythm campaign is intended to educate the public on cardiac health especially Sudden Cardiac Arrest; how to recognise the symptoms, and how to try and save the lives of others in the unfortunate event of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Part of the campaign includes providing training on the use of AEDs and Basic Life Support (BLS) level CPR classes to the general public and first responders including boda boda riders.