Supplied image: campaign to create stroke awareness at Joburg taxi ranks.

If you had a stroke, your chances of recovery would depend on two critical factors: somebody recognising that you were experiencing a stroke and getting you to hospital quickly, plus having access to a hospital with the right diagnostic equipment and well-trained staff to offer correct care without delay.

Throughout this week, a unique health partnership, the Angels Initiative, is working at major commuter hubs in Johannesburg to spread stroke awareness and empower members of the public to respond appropriately in a stroke emergency.

The series of health activations is part of the internationally observed Stroke Awareness Month and local partners include the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH), the Heart and Stroke Foundation and pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim.

On Tuesday, the Angels mobilisers and provincial health promoters – easily identifiable in their feathery wings — focused their energies on the taxi rank opposite Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, handing out leaflets, talking about stroke, and encouraging commuters to take good care of their health.

In addition, healthcare workers appealed to commuters to stop for a few minutes and get their blood pressure checked immediately, as high blood pressure is major risk factor for stroke – and many people are unaware they have high blood pressure until the damage occurs.

Health campaigners were joined by Professor Feroza Motara, Head of Emergency Medicine at Wits University and a member of the Angels Initiative Steering Committee. “Stroke affects South Africans in all walks of life and more than half of those who have a stroke die or suffer a life-changing disability,” she said.

“Ordinary citizens are essentially the ‘first responders’ when a stroke occurs. If they are able to act with certainty and speed to secure emergency treatment, we can save many lives and reduce the severity of long-term damage.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Suzan Raputhi-Letsoalo, a stroke survivor from Atteridgeville, Pretoria who runs a support group called Stroke Tamara. “I am truly lucky to be alive today, because few people survive the kind of stroke I had. So, I want to encourage people to listen and take this education seriously. It may help you save a life one day – because strokes can be merciless and there is just a small window of time when you can make things better.”

The Angels Initiative not only aims to educate the public on stroke but also to improve the ability of public and private hospitals to provide treatment. Specialised diagnostic equipment is needed to establish whether a stroke has been caused by a blockage in a blood vessel supplying the brain, or by the rupture of a damaged blood vessel which causes bleeding in the brain.

Leading cardiologists, neurologists, and experts in emergency medicine, rehabilitation and other relevant disciplines have enthusiastically supported the initiative. A range of private hospital groups has come on board, as have several provincial health departments. Treatment protocols have been developed and training in the use of these protocols will commence in 2018.

“The response has been incredibly encouraging,” said Boehringer Ingelheim Medical Director Dr Shanil Naidoo, speaking above the hustle and bustle of the Bara taxi rank. “We believe that we can make a huge improvement to the quality of stroke care across the board if we share our knowledge more generously and coordinate our services better. Strokes do not discriminate between rich and poor, and we must ensure everyone has access to effective stroke care.”

The activations started on Monday at Johannesburg’s Park Station,and will conclude tomorrow at the Midrand Taxi Rank.

(Adapted from press release)