Evaluation of a package of risk-based pharmaceutical and lifestyle interventions in patients with hypertension and/or diabetes in rural China: A pragmatic cluster randomised controlled trial

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by Xiaolin Wei, Zhitong Zhang, Marc K. C. Chong, Joseph P. Hicks, Weiwei Gong, Guanyang Zou, Jieming Zhong, John D. Walley, Ross E. G. Upshur, Min Yu


Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) requires adequate control of hypertension and diabetes. We designed and implemented pharmaceutical and healthy lifestyle interventions for patients with diabetes and/or hypertension in rural primary care, and assessed their effectiveness at reducing severe CVD events.

Methods and findings

We used a pragmatic, parallel group, 2-arm, controlled, superiority, cluster trial design. We randomised 67 township hospitals in Zhejiang Province, China, to intervention (34) or control (33). A total of 31,326 participants were recruited, with 15,380 in the intervention arm and 15,946 in the control arm. Participants had no known CVD and were either patients with hypertension and a 10-year CVD risk of 20% or higher, or patients with type 2 diabetes regardless of their CVD risk. The intervention included prescription of a standardised package of medicines, individual advice on lifestyle change, and adherence support. Control was usual hypertension and diabetes care. In both arms, as usual in China, most outpatient drug costs were out of pocket. The primary outcome was severe CVD events, including coronary heart disease and stroke, during 36 months of follow-up, as recorded by the CVD surveillance system. The study was implemented between December 2013 and May 2017. A total of 13,385 (87%) and 14,745 (92%) participated in the intervention and control arms, respectively. Their mean age was 64 years, 51% were women, and 90% were farmers. Of all participants, 64% were diagnosed with hypertension with or without diabetes, and 36% were diagnosed with diabetes only. All township hospitals and participants completed the 36-month follow-up. At 36 months, there were 762 and 874 severe CVD events in the intervention and control arms, respectively, yielding a non-significant effect on CVD incidence rate (1.92 and 2.01 per 100 person-years, respectively; crude incidence rate ratio = 0.90 [95% CI: 0.74, 1.08; P = 0.259]). We observed significant, but small, differences in the change from baseline to follow-up for systolic blood pressure (−1.44 mm Hg [95% CI: −2.26, −0.62; P < 0.001]) and diastolic blood pressure (−1.29 mm Hg [95% CI: −1.77, −0.80; P < 0.001]) in the intervention arm compared to the control arm. Self-reported adherence to recommended medicines was significantly higher in the intervention arm compared with the control arm at 36 months. No safety concerns were identified. Main study limitations include all participants being informed about their high CVD risk at baseline, non-blinding of participants, and the relatively short follow-up period available for judging potential changes in rates of CVD events.


The comprehensive package of pharmaceutical and healthy lifestyle interventions did not reduce severe CVD events over 36 months. Improving health system factors such as universal coverage for the cost of essential medicines is required for successful risk-based CVD prevention programmes.

Trial registration

ISRCTN registry ISRCTN58988083.