When our partners launched the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health in September 2021, we were driven by the commitment to share expertise and raise awareness on the burden of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) in Europe.
We knew then, and our Alliances of 17 partners knows today, that cardiovascular diseases understood as a vast group of disorders, all related to the heart and circulatory (vascular) system, including stroke, with a high prevalence of morbidity and mortality in the EU, remain Europe’s biggest health challenge. CVDs impact the lives of more than 60 million people in the EU and is responsible for 1.8 million deaths per year in the EU. Cardiovascular disease can and will affect patients of any age, men and women alike. A further, tremendous characteristic are the large inequalities – from one region of Europe to another, but also within countries and even within cities: some populations are affected substantially more than others.
In terms of costs for the EU economy, CVDs amount to 210 billion EUR every year, and we can only assume that the COVID-19 pandemic further increased this burden. There were reports of people who no longer felt it was safe to go to the hospital or even to their GP. Procedures and check-ups were delayed or altogether cancelled. In some areas even the numer of patients who sought hospital care for acute myocardial infarction was severely affected. Importantly, the pandemic has shown that patients with heart diseases such as heart failure were more severely affected, and cardiovascular events occur more frequently in the weeks after a severe COVID-19 infection.
The question is simple: how can we address these challenges and ensure better cardiovascular health for all people in Europe? Surprisingly, the answer can also be a rather simple one.
First, we believe that collaboration is key. As the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH), we bring together and represent not only tens of millions of patients, but also more than 300,000 healthcare professionals, hundreds of health industry companies, health insurers covering the medical costs of more than 200 million people, and millions of people living with genetic CVD risk factors but who have not yet been diagnosed. The Alliance can truly speak for everyone, and this is what we intend to do.
Second, we believe in the power of having a policy plan to promote cardiovascular health and address the burden of the disease in a coordinated manner across the EU. This is what the event hosted by Friends of Europe was all about: presenting the Alliance’s Action Plan. A plan that aims to reduce premature and preventable deaths in Europe by one third in 2030, improve access for all to high quality cardiovascular risk assessments, to set multi-disciplinary care pathways, and pave the way for greater quality of life for all.
As Europe slowly emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s time to shape a new vision of health. EACH strives to shift focus from cardiovascular disease to cardiovascular health for all people, for patients, through primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.
This is an important shift and is the bedrock for our call for a European Cardiovascular Health (CVH) Plan. A vision that focuses on how we can achieve efficient prevention and early detection, on what form should EU-wide action on cardiovascular health take building on the EU Non-Communicable Disease Initiative, and on how we can address the existing inequalities in access to care and treatment.
The success and impact of a European CVH Plan will be shaped not only by what is achieved over the next few years, but also by how it is achieved, leaving no-one and no country behind. EACH calls on addressing societal barriers, underserved populations, discrimination on all grounds, and fundamental inequalities pervading health systems across Europe.
As EACH, we know that now is the time to act. All evidence points in the same direction. In order to win this battle, we must channel enormous political will, leadership, expertise, and imagination, as well as create a different landscape for cardiovascular health in Europe.
Professor Stephan Achenbach, on behalf of the EU Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH)