Objective: To describe the prevalence of risk factors and experience of preventive interventions in stroke survivors, and identilfy barriers to secondary prevention in rural South Africa.
Methods: A clinician visited individuals in the Agincourt field site (in South Africa's rural north east) who were identified in a census as possible stroke victims to confirm the diagnosis of stroke. We explored the impact of stroke on the individual's family, and health-seeking behaviour following stroke by conducting in-depth interviews in the households of 35 stroke survivors. We held two workshops to understand the knowledge, experience, and views of primary care nurses, who provide the bulk of professional health care.
Findings: We identified 103 stroke survivors (37 men), 73 (71%) of whom had hypertension, but only 8 (8%) were taking anti-hypertensive treatment. Smoking was uncommon; 8 men and 1 woman smoked a maximum of ten cigarettes daily. 94 (91%) stroke survivors had sought help, which involved allopathic health care for most of them (81; 79%). 42 had also sought help from traditional healers and churches, while another 13 people had sought help only from those sources. Of the 35 survivors who were interviewed, 29 reported having been prescribed anti-hypertensive pills after their stroke. Barriers to secondary prevention included cost of treatment, reluctance to use pills, difficulties with access to drugs, and lack of equipment to measure blood pressure. A negative attitude to allopathic care was not an important factor.
Conclusion: In this rural area hypertension is the most important modifiable risk factor in stroke survivors. Effective secondary prevention may reduce the incidence of recurrent strokes, but there is no system to deliver such care. New strategies for care are needed involving both allopathic and non-allopathic-health care providers.