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New program effectively treats hypertension in underserved communities, MU study finds

March 4th, 2019

Story Contact: Austin Fitzgerald, 573-882-6217, fitzgeraldac@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a major health concern worldwide, affecting an estimated 31 percent of the world’s population. Low and middle-income countries, such as the Dominican Republic, are disproportionately affected.

To help combat this issue, researchers at the University of Missouri partnered with the Dominican Light a Candle Foundation, Kansas City non-profit Dominican Republic Medical Partnership and American non-profit Jonas Philanthropies to pilot a hypertension care program in underserved communities of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. So far, the results of this program indicate that it is both effective and sustainable.

“Communities of migrant workers in the Dominican Republic have limited access to health care and healthy food, and so they end up eating lots of sugar and salt, which increases their risk of cardiac issues,” said Maithe Enriquez, an associate professor and director of the Participatory Health Research Graduate Certificate Program at MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing. “We coordinated with local communities to bring these people free screenings and treatment.”

This program, known as the Jonas Batey Hypertension Program, brought care to four bateyes, which are rural sugarcane settlements that often lack running water, electricity, proper sanitation and convenient access to health clinics or medication. The local foundation visited each community four times per year, providing screenings, multivitamins and a three-month supply of blood pressure medication to those in need at each visit. Though the program is still ongoing, it was evaluated by Enriquez and her colleagues after a one-year period.

The evaluation showed that among 813 participants who had participated in the program continuously for at least one year, 243 were diagnosed with hypertension and treated. Median systolic blood pressure readings dropped by more than 12 points, while diastolic blood pressure dropped by more than 15 points. Crucially, researchers noted a high level of engagement and continuous participation within the bateyes, indicating that the program is viable and can be expanded (since the analysis, six additional bateyes have been added to the program).

“Given that one of the major challenges these rural communities face is consistent, uninterrupted treatment for health conditions, we are happy to see that this program was able to serve patients continuously and effectively,” Enriquez said. “There were challenges, of course — we had to increase the supply of pills from 90 to 95 days’ worth, because heavy rains and washed out roads could lead to delays in reaching the bateyes — but we now know that this a robust program that can truly help people.”

The study, “The Jonas Hypertension Program: An academic-community partnership to address hypertension in four Dominican bateyes,” was published in Hispanic Health Care International. Others involved in the study were: Tammie Conley and Benjamin Coe of MU; An-Lin Cheng of the University of Missouri-Kansas City; Dorcas Jorge and Sandy Yan Meristal of the Light a Candle Foundation; and Pamela Logan, Steven Stiles, Ginny Beall, Alfred Biggs, and David McKinsey of the Dominican Republic Medical Partnership. Funding was provided by Jonas Philanthropies.

Pronunciation guide: “batey” is pronounced “bah-tay.”

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