Cardiovascular disease

New initiative launched to tackle cardiovascular disease, the world’s number one killer

WHO/Christopher Black

22 September, 2016: “Global Hearts”, a new initiative from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners launched on the margins of the UN General Assembly, aims to beat back the global threat of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes - the world’s leading cause of death.

More than 17 million people die annually from cardiovascular disease (CVD). Many of these people have been exposed to unhealthy behaviours, including tobacco use, eating foods containing too much salt and inadequate physical activity. And many could be saved by better access to medical care for high blood pressure (responsible for the bulk of heart disease-related deaths annually), high blood cholesterol and other conditions that raise the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Global Hearts is part of a new effort to scale up prevention and control of CVD, especially in developing countries. It is a collaboration between WHO, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC), and other partners, including the World Heart Federation, the World Stroke Organization, the International Society of Hypertension, and the World Hypertension League.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan says the Global Hearts Initiative can save many millions of lives through ramping up proven measures to prevent CVD in communities and countries, including tobacco taxation, reducing salt in foods, detecting and treating people at high risk and strengthening primary health care level services. Using such measures, the United States has reduced deaths from CVD by more than 40%, and Finland has reduced CVD deaths in men by 80%.

“The Global Hearts Initiative is fair, as it aims to extend measures that have produced such dramatic results in wealthy populations to people living in countries with limited resources or in low-income groups,” says Dr Chan. “Over three quarters of deaths from heart attacks and strokes occur in low- and middle-income countries. Poor and disadvantaged populations should not be denied access to interventions that can save so many lives, especially since effective interventions are also inexpensive.”

The Global Hearts Initiative comprises three technical packages:

  • SHAKE: a new set of evidence-backed policy options and examples to support governments to lower population salt consumption. If fully implemented in every country, SHAKE could save millions of lives per year and dramatically reduce the burden of NCDs on health systems.
  • HEARTS: This technical package gives countries the tools to incorporate cardiovascular disease management best practices at the primary health care level to reduce cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. HEARTS aims to prevent heart attacks and strokes through equitable access to ongoing, standardized and quality care.
  • MPOWER: Tobacco kills around 6 million people every year. MPOWER is a set of six practical, affordable and achievable measures to help countries implement specific provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This new push will help scale up efforts by many countries that are already implementing the MPOWER package of demand-reduction interventions for effective tobacco control.

Based on the Global Hearts technical packages, WHO, the US CDC and partners will provide governments with the technical support required to implement and scale up interventions to reduce blood pressure, and prevent heart attacks and strokes. Specific activities will include:

  • Establishing demonstration sites in 14 countries,
  • Developing salt reduction and tobacco control plans,
  • Developing simplified and standardized management protocols,
  • Improving access to medicines and technologies,
  • Building the capacities of health and other providers, and
  • Monitoring the progress of implementation.

“Reducing demand for tobacco products and content of salt in foods can help millions of people avoid unnecessary death and suffering from cardiovascular disease,” adds Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO Director for Prevention of NCDs. “This can also be a major cost saving for resource-strapped governments by avoiding unnecessary healthcare costs.”

Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Management of NCDs, adds: “The Global Hearts Initiative takes a comprehensive approach to address the cardiovascular disease burden. Its aim is to help countries scale up tested, affordable and adaptable measures to make their health services better able to detect and treat people at risk of, or suffering from, heart disease.”

The Global Hearts Initiative will be initially rolled out in Barbados, Benin, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand and Uganda – and will be open to all countries wishing to participate.

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