Cerebrovascular disease or stroke was among the top ten causes of death in the Caribbean between 2000 to 2016. Of note, for those older than 70-years in both genders, cerebrovascular disease was the leading cause of death (CARPHA 2019).
A stroke can happen to anyone, at any time, and anywhere. Stroke occurs when there is a loss of blood supply to any part of the brain. This may be due to an obstruction in a blood vessel known as an ischaemic stroke or when the blood vessel ruptures and results in bleeding in the brain known as a haemorrhagic stroke.
The region of the Caribbean has some of the highest prevalences of risk factors for stroke. However, it is an encouraging fact that up to 90% of strokes are preventable through healthy lifestyle changes. Some steps that can be taken to reduce risk of stroke include:
• Monitoring your blood pressure
• Controlling your cholesterol
• Keeping your blood sugar down
• Being active
• Eating a healthy diet
• Maintaining a healthy weight if you need to
• Not smoking. period.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol can increase your risk of having a stroke. A blood pressure check can determine whether you have high blood pressure, and your healthcare provider can advise on how to manage your condition with lifestyle changes and/or the right medication.
A stroke can occur in anyone at any age. In order to reduce death and disability from a stroke, we all need to recognise the signs and symptoms:
• facial drooping,
• arm weakness,
• speech difficulties,
• sudden imbalance and/or vision loss.
When a stroke happens, parts of the brain become damaged and can start to die within minutes.
Every effort should be made to get the stroke sufferer to the hospital within the first 24 hours. This is a critical step towards getting proper and timely treatment as this can reduce the amount of brain tissue that is lost and reduce the risk of death and disability.
CARPHA has adopted an integrated approach to the management of NCDs in the Region and many of the initiatives in place will contribute to the reduction in the occurrence as well as to improve the treatment of strokes. Technical support is provided to CARPHA Member States to strengthen the management of the main NCDs such as diabetes and hypertension through the development and implementation of regional guidelines to improve the quality of care.
In 2021 CARPHA launched CESA: A Regional Sodium Reduction Framework to support Caribbean Member States in reducing sodium consumption in their population, as excess sodium consumption is a risk for cardiovascular disease including stroke. Presently, CARPHA is providing leadership in the implementation of the Six-Point Policy package, a comprehensive approach towards promoting a healthy food environment in support of the reduction of NCDs in the Caribbean.
Caribbean governments, civil society and all stakeholders have to do their part to ensure that public health programmes are in place to address the risk factors associated with the occurrence of stroke /cerebrovascular disease. Member States are urged to strengthen their commitment to providing timely, equitable access to healthcare to all.
World Stroke Day is observed annually on 29th October. For 2021 and 2022, the focus will be on raising awareness of the signs of stroke and the need for timely access to quality stroke treatment.
Listen to your body and trust your instincts. Learn the signs of a stroke. Save precious time.