‘BE FAST’ - Jamaica Stroke Alliance aims to raise awareness of the illness, provide support
Raising awareness of the causes, prevention, and treatment of stroke is crucial to the health and well-being of all Jamaicans. The Jamaica Stroke Alliance (JSA), which was launched virtually on World Stroke Day, October 29, is advocating for healthcare providers and persons in general to acknowledge the importance of understanding the signs and risk factors of stroke.
According to Dr Kimikawa Morgan-Channer, interim chairperson of the JSA, the general public continues to have a significant deficiency in stroke awareness and knowledge.
“Patients and their caregivers indicate dissatisfaction with the stroke information they receive, especially during post-stroke care. Although stroke education is perceived as important by stroke patients and their caregivers, access to medical knowledge remains a consistent challenge,” Morgan-Channer said.
Stroke is a leading cause of disability. One-quarter of patients who have a first stroke have another within five years; this increased risk is driven by the worsening risk profile for cardiovascular disease that follows stroke. According to the latest World Health Organization data published in 2018, stroke deaths in Jamaica reached 2,479, or 13.62 per cent of total deaths.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is either blocked or burst. In the first case, when a blood clot blocks a major blood vessel in the brain, it is immediately affected and the longer the brain is deprived of oxygen-rich blood, the greater the chances of long-term disability, and even death.
According to Morgan-Channer, the acronym, ‘BE FAST’ best describes the signs to look for to determine whether someone is having a stroke: balance – loss of balance, headache or dizziness; eyes – blurred vision; face – one side of the face is drooping; arms – arm or leg weakness; speech – speech difficulty; time – time to go to the hospital immediately.
Morgan-Channer explained that the main focus of the new organisation is to collaborate with public and private organisations to raise awareness among Jamaicans of how to prevent a stroke, as well as to advocate for improvements in the access to quality care and treatment.
“Overall, deciphering medical terminology is problematic for many patients and caregivers. Difficulty in understanding educational materials creates a communication barrier between the patients, caregivers, and their healthcare providers. Post-discharge barriers among stroke patients and caregivers include a lack of continuity of care and not knowing where to go to find answers to medical questions,” Morgan-Channer said.
“Stroke patients and caregivers often feel uncomfortable or intimidated to ask their healthcare professionals questions during acute care, and right before discharge. As a result, many failed to obtain significant information regarding their disease and care plan. This is especially important among stroke patients since many of them recently acquired new physical and/or cognitive disabilities, resulting in more need for external assistance,” she added.
Morgan-Channer also pointed out that several factors contributed to the prevalence of stroke, including gender, family history, ethnicity, underlying medical conditions, high levels of bad cholesterol, and lifestyle choices, including cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise, poor diet, and stress.
Guest speaker at the JSA launch, State Minister in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, explained that although Jamaica had been deliberately focusing on non-communicable diseases over the past two decades, the country continued to experience an unacceptably high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke.
“Even as countries around the world zone in on COVID-19, the renewed call to focus on our overall health and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases has become more relevant, as persons who also suffer from co-morbidities have had a higher fatality rate when compared to others,” Cuthbert-Flynn said.
Vision 2030, Jamaica’s National Development Plan, reports that cerebrovascular disease, which includes stroke, hypertension and heart disease, is the leading cause of both morbidity and mortality in Jamaica. As such, many Jamaicans have either experienced a stroke, or have a family member who has been affected by stroke, and are involved in their long-term care.
Dr Fred Kennedy, chairman of the GraceKennedy Foundation, which has been providing administrative support for the JSA, noted that the foundation was proud to be associated with the new organisation.
“Both the foundation and GraceKennedy Limited strongly endorse this initiative. We have demonstrated our support by way of monetary contributions, human resources, and expertise,” he said.
Earl Jarrett, chief executive officer of The Jamaica National Group, chairman of the JN Foundation and director of the JSA, pledged his company’s support to the organisation. Jarrett reflected on his own experience suffering a stroke in 2017 and underscored the importance of responding quickly if a stroke is suspected.
“What you see today and hear today is a result of early decisions made at the start of my episode, and the need for a ‘FAST’ response,” Jarrett said.
For more information on stroke prevention and care, and the Jamaica Stroke Alliance, please visit https://www.jamaicastrokealliance.org/.