Some blame witchcraft. Others think it’s a bad batch of moonshine.
But Esther Okaya, who lives in Korogocho, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, says even teetotalers are falling victim. One minute quarreling with a neighbor; the next minute, dead.
And it’s happened to her.
Okaya’s husband left her. He took the money for her children’s school fees. A few mornings later, her 9-year-old son shuffled home after being turned away by the teacher.
And then she felt it. It was as if her heart seized up. She could not breathe.
At the health clinic the next day, a nurse did something to Okaya that she hadn’t seen before: wrapped a rubber cuff around her arm that squeezed and beeped and spit out a number.
The number was 148.
148 over 90, her blood pressure. Esther Okaya, age 39, had hypertension, which made her more susceptible to heart attack or stroke.
While hypertension is a condition we might more readily associate with a 55-year-old office worker in an American city, it’s actually more prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, affecting nearly 1 in 2 residents over the age of 25. Genetic proclivity to salt-retention may play a role. Another factor is economic good news. As Africans earn more and move to cities and spend more on food, their risk factors start to look more Western.
Photo: Esther Okaya has a health problem that is a growing concern in Sub-Saharan Africa: high blood pressure.