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WHO publishes definitive atlas on global heart disease and stroke epidemic

The atlas of heart disease and stroke, graphically detailing a global epidemic that is the leading single cause of death worldwide, was launched here today, to coincide with World Heart Day, Sunday 26 September 2004. The atlas is expected to provide a powerful advocacy tool to stimulate vital action and help promote constructive decision-making by governments, policymakers, national and international organisations, health professionals, individuals and families everywhere.

The atlas is published by the World Health Organization (WHO), in conjunction with the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is strongly supported by NGOs such as the World Heart Federation (WHF).

Heart disease and stroke kill some 17 million people a year, which is almost one-third of all deaths globally. By 2020, heart disease and stroke will become the leading cause of both death and disability worldwide, with the number of fatalities projected to increase to over 20 million a year and by 2030 to over 24 million a year.

"The old stereotype of cardiovascular diseases affecting only stressed, overweight middle-aged men in developed countries no longer applies," said Dr Robert Beaglehole, WHO Director of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion. "Today, men, women and children are at risk and 80% of the burden is in low- and middle-income countries. Heart disease and stroke not only take lives, but also cause an enormous economic burden. The atlas should be a significant new resource for global advocacy and education activity."

Dr Judith Mackay, co-author of the atlas with CDC's Dr George Mensah, said: “No matter what advances there are in high-technology medicine, the fundamental message is that any major reduction in deaths and disability from heart disease and stroke will come primarily from prevention, not just cure. This must involve robust reduction of risk factors, through encouraging our children to adopt healthy lifestyle habits and by introducing appropriate policies and intervention programmes.”

For the first time in one publication, the atlas captures updated data for each country, which is depicted through colourful maps, photographs and images and provides risk factor statistics for the occurrence of high blood pressure, tobacco, physical inactivity, obesity, lipids and diabetes. The diverse elements of this global epidemic including risk factors, similarities and differences between countries, the economic burden, prevention, policies and legislation, treatment and predictions are chronicled. A world data table is also published for the first time and gives statistics for each country, including the number of healthy life years lost to heart disease and stroke, the prevalence of smoking and the status of policies and legislation.

“While heart disease and stroke are eminently preventable, decision-makers and government funding agencies are, overall, neglecting this public health issue,” said Janet Voûte, CEO, WHF, an NGO dedicated to the global prevention of heart disease and stroke. “The WHF strongly endorses the atlas as a valuable resource for global advocacy and educational activity to fight the heart disease and stroke epidemic. We know how to reduce the burden of heart disease and stroke, but what is needed now is the combination of necessary resources and political will by each country to take effective action."

The atlas is being launched to coincide with World Heart Day, which is a major driving force for encouraging global heart disease and stroke prevention. The focus this year is Children, Adolescents and Heart Disease, because children are increasingly adopting unhealthy lifestyles. Obesity, poor diets, smoking and physical inactivity, the leading causes of heart disease and stroke, are now being seen at an alarmingly early age. Around 100 countries will take part in this, the fifth annual, World Heart Day, with member societies organising educational activities for everyone to get involved. Thousands of people around the world will join one of the walks, runs, jump rope or fitness sessions, have a health check or learn about heart-healthy lifestyles from the public talks, scientific forums and exhibitions.

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For more information contact:

Dr Shanthi Mendis
Telephone: +41 22 791 3441
E-mail: mendiss@who.int

Mr David Porter
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 3774
Mobile phone: +41 (79) 477 1740
E-mail: porterd@who.int

Judith Mackay
Telephone: +852 2719 1995
Mobile phone: +852 9302 5558
E-mail: jmackay@pacific.net.hk

Lauren O’Brien
Telephone: +41 22 908 4074
E-mail: lauren_o’brien@ch.cohnwolfe.com

The atlas of heart disease and stroke