Health screenings are an important tool to improve population health. In high and middle-income nations, blood pressure (BP) screening can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death and disability for adults 50 and older. A study carried out by Ciancio and team (2021) among adults at risk of hypertension in rural Malawi, found that providing a simple referral letter effectively reduced BP and hypertension over four years. The study also found that it had positive effects in other health dimensions, including subjective mental health and probability of taking BP medication. This is one of the first studies to document long-term health effects of a simple screening for non-communicable disease in sub-Saharan Africa. 

A snapshot of the study findings and implications are listed below and can also be accessed via their research brief.

  • Blood Pressure and hypertension: among adults in rural Malawi, population health screening for high blood pressure (BP) led to a 22-percentage point drop in the likelihood of being hypertensive four years later.
  • Health Knowledge , Behaviors, and Subjective Health: receiving a referral letter positively impacted participants’ mental health. At follow-up, those who received a letter were more likely to report favorable mental health than their counterparts who did not receive a letter. 
  • Population health screening:  has the possibility of reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases in low-income countries.
  • While individuals are willing to spend time and effort to treat non-communicable disease, they are less willing to modify their habits and daily routines to prevent it  
  • Future research: rural, low-income populations may have different modifiable risk factors for disease than high or middle-income populations. Future research should examine the pathways through which participants in rural and low-income contexts achieve a reduction in BP and how this differs from other settings.

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