Ghana: why basic life support training is needed across the country

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Ghana is called a “growing burden” and indeed, the country has been described as having “all the makings of a CVD epidemic”. We need to pay attention and consider what we can do.

Ghana’s fourth leading cause of death is ischemic heart disease. Coronary heart disease in Ghana causes 18,607 deaths a year. To understand just how important this is for Ghana’s current health agenda, ischemic heart disease has moved up the rankings as a cause of death since 2007. Wider provision of basic life support training would go some distance to tackle the growing number of deaths from heart attack.

Why is heart disease more of a problem in Ghana now?

Heart disease is strongly correlated with urbanisation. Well over half of Ghana’s population now lives in cities compared to under half just a decade or two ago.

With the shift from rural to urban living, there are general changes in lifestyles and behaviour. Factors including poorer eating habits through to reduced physical activity contribute to poorer heart health.

In developed countries, screening and preventative strategies have helped to reduce some of the impact of CVD. At the moment, it is arguable that such efforts and endeavours are limited in countries such as Ghana, not least because of the much needed focus and use of limited resources on health issues such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t strategies we can put in place to help target the increase in CVD, and specifically immediate care following a heart attack.

The importance of quick response following heart attack

Time is really important when someone is experiencing a heart attack. If medical care is provided within the first few hours, then the damage caused to the cardiac muscle can be limited, and chances of survival are better. Nearly 45% of individuals suffering a heart attack not in a hospital will survive if they receive ‘bystander CPR’.

Why is basic life support training needed in Ghana

Basic life support training equips the trainee with how to respond in the event of an individual suffering a heart attack or cardiopulmonary arrest. It covers cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to support life where possible, until medical assistance can be given. It may also cover the use of defibrillators.

The National Ambulance Service (NAS) in Ghana is, in many ways, a success story in this region of the continent. However, still only around 60% of the country is covered by it.

Given that speed is of the essence when someone is suffering a heart attack, it makes sense to provide basic life support training across the country, ensuring that everyone is closer to first response care and indeed has access to ‘bystander CPR’.

It is possible to train individuals in basic life support so that they are equipped to help an individual having a heart attack until either an ambulance or professional medical assistance can be accessed. Local health outreach organisations, office workers and even churches can be targeted as good recipients of the training. Organisations, such as Adanfopa Foundation, are working hard to deliver basic life support training to a wider base and ever greater numbers.

Whilst emergency medical response is patchy and limited, equipping the population with basic life support training has the potential to save lives. Given the ‘epidemic’ proportions of CVD in Ghana, this is a relatively simple, low cost and accessible step to help save lives whilst infrastructure builds and lifestyle factors and the negative consequences of urbanisation are mitigated.