Despite significant advances in recent decades to improve cardiovascular care and reduce mortality, the burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains greater than any other disease.
A concerted effort is needed to ensure the voices of stakeholders are heard by policymakers and that cardiovascular health is prioritised accordingly. That is why we have come together just ahead of World Heart Day (29 September) to launch the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health.
Concerned about the current situation, – the European Society of Cardiology, the European Heart Network and MedTech Europe – invited other European organisations with a strong interest in cardiovascular health to join efforts to raise awareness of the burden of CVD.
This has resulted in the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health*, composed of 15 European organisations that bring together health professionals, patient advocates, industry experts, health insurers, NGOs, and others to ensure that Europe’s response to CVD matches the scale of the collective challenge we face.
Together, we call for resolute action by European decision-makers to improve cardiovascular health through a dedicated EU policy plan.
Burden of cardiovascular disease augmented by the pandemic
The data on the burden of CVD is striking. CVD remains the leading cause of death in the EU contributing to 36% of all deaths compared to 26% for cancer.
CVD impacts people of all ages, with CVD accounting for a significant proportion of premature deaths (CVD mortality before age 65 is 24% in men and 17% in women).
We were aware of this high burden of CVD before COVID-19 swept across Europe in 2020. However, the pandemic has exacerbated the CVD epidemic and clearly illustrated the vulnerability of patients with CVD. We know now that the SARS-CoV-2 virus damages the heart and vascular system, and that these mechanisms may explain the extremely high morbidity and mortality in patients with pre-existing CVD and COVID-19.
Others who have apparently recovered from COVID-19 may endure long-term cardiovascular complications, such as heart attack and stroke in the first weeks post infection and shortness of breath, tachycardias and arrhythmias long term. Not to mention the negative impact of the COVID pandemic on care and outcomes of patients with acute cardiac conditions and the postponement or even cancellation of elective diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.
Investing in prevention, early detection, and innovation
One of the challenges we aim to overcome together is to tackle damaging stereotypes. In particular, there is a perception that CVD is only a lifestyle disease. The reality is that there are several cardiovascular conditions which are not caused by lifestyle and there is a strong underlying genetic component that shapes our risk of heart attack and stroke. Other diseases simply occur due to ageing and functional decline. In our opinion, this is often overlooked.
Prevention remains a vital tool in our shared battle against the societal burden of CVD. We must begin to think of spending on primary and secondary prevention, including early detection, as an investment rather than a cost. The cost of doing nothing often turns out to be the most expensive option.
We want to see better and equal patient care and greater focus on improving the quality of life for those living with CVD. There is a clear need for more investment in research and innovation. And, where new medical technologies and medicines can add value for patients and society, access to innovation should be swift and equitable.
Only by uniting can we ensure that our voices are heard. Our new alliance represents a joint effort to change perceptions, raise awareness and, ultimately, to bring better cardiovascular health to patients through better policy and funding.
By combining the knowledge and expertise of all stakeholders in CVD, we hope to bring comprehensive advice and guidance to EU policymakers – and deliver value to society in the process.
*Partners will actively contribute to the goals of the alliance, individually and by developing and launching collective initiatives and actions that to achieve a heart healthier Europe