Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - including cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and diabetes - have become a significant global burden on health. Particularly concerning are CVD rates, causing approximately 18 million deaths worldwide every year. The statistics show that the disease is no longer a predominantly high-income country phenomenon, but affects, increasingly, countries in both developing regions and conflict-affected areas. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), the focus of this article, CVD ranks top of ten NCD killers, accounting for approximately 37.6% of deaths. Key risk factors discerned in primary care settings have been related to both structural determinants (i.e. the Israeli occupation) and individual behavioural factors. Unfortunately, no data are available for secondary care settings in the region and, consequently, little is known about patients and their capacity for risk factor behaviour change to manage their CVD.To begin closing this gap in knowledge, our study provides insight into cardiovascular disease secondary prevention care with the overall aim to enhance the understanding of the complexities of managing NCDs like CVD in conflict-affected settings. Specifically, research was carried out among Palestinian health professionals who specialise in coronary artery disease in the West Bank to elicit their views on (a) how socio-political, health system and individual behavioural factors might hinder patients to change their health behaviour and impact on the provision of healthcare and (b) possible solutions for overcoming identified barriers to behaviour change on societal as well as individual-patient levels within secondary care provision in a context of protracted conflict.
This study is based on a qualitative approach in order to provide more in-depth information about health beliefs and behaviours, experiences and views of health professionals with regards to CVD secondary care. In total, 12 semi-structured interviews were conducted among doctors providing treatment to patients with CVD in secondary care settings. Interviews focused on health professionals' perspectives on risk factors and perceived barriers to behaviour change among known CVD patients receiving secondary care. Interviewees were also asked to propose possible actions that could be taken to overcome the identified barriers at both societal and individual patient levels. All interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.
Study results confirmed our prior theory of the complex entanglement of socio-political, health system and individual-level factors with regards to CVD experience, health-seeking and treatment. Also confirmed was our assumption that it is crucial to understand experts' definitions and approaches to treatment in order to grasp their visions for appropriate and improved prevention and treatment options. In particular, study participants highlighted how political determinants, notably the detrimental impact of the Israeli occupation, and social determinants, directly and indirectly influence behavioural determinants due to physical and bureaucratic barriers to accessing health facilities, economic hardship and chronic stress. These stressors, in turn, were perceived as having a negative effect on individual behavioural risk factors including smoking, unhealthy diet and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Proposed solutions included more focused interventions from the Ministry of Health as well as surveillance, primary prevention and health promotion, and management to positively effect behaviour change in order to address the growing burden of CVD in the region.
The study has highlighted medical professionals' perceptions of how structural and individual behavioural determinants influence their own and individual patient's abilities to manage cardiovascular risk factors in a setting affected by chronic conflict. Consequently, we propose that medical and social intervention strategies generally used to address CVD risk, be strategically adapted in order to be useful and effective in contexts of armed conflict. Specifically, we call for a solid understanding of the socio-political context and existing health services as well as health providers' and patients' health beliefs and related behaviours when developing future health options aimed at addressing CVD in the region. Moreover, for health provision to be effective as well as sustainable, attention needs to be given above all towards a solution for political change.