World Heart Day: Raising Awareness about the World’s No. 1 Killer

Andrea Fiegl
Andrea Fiegl
Associate, International Health
Elizabeth MacGregor-Skinner
Elizabeth MacGregor-Skinner
Principal Associate, International Health
Natasha Sakolsky
Natasha Sakolsky
Principal Associate, International Health
September 29 marks World Heart Day – a day that the global health community should take to heart.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide. More than 17.3 million people died due to heart disease in 2013, the latest data available. What’s worse, the number of CVD deaths is increasing, especially in underdeveloped regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Over eighty percent of CVD deaths occur in low-and middle income countries, and heart disease and stroke are among the top three causes of years of life lost due to premature orality globally.
The economic burden of CVD also is substantial. Countries that are demographically transitioning now face a double burden of infectious and chronic diseases, which will greatly affect and dampen economic output if nothing is done. The global health community is slowly awakening to this looming crisis after decades of relative inaction on NCDs and CVD.
As announced by the U.N. on Sept. 25, 2015, NCD prevention and control is now a separate goal of the new Sustainable Development Goals. We can only hope that this will galvanize action and investment in CVD prevention and control, especially in developing countries where CVD care is not (yet) a national priority.
A recent article in Health Affairs by T.J. Bollyky and co-authors highlighted that cost-effective interventions and treatments that have helped reduce mortality from stroke and coronary heart disease by as much as two-thirds in high income countries are inadequately available in LMICs. Hence, premature CVD mortality is increasingly an issue in low and middle income countries.
Still, CVD and NCDs receive the lowest dollar amounts per Disability-Adjusted-Life-Year (DALY) as part of development aid for health. Bilateral and multilateral donors are largely underinvested in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases; most private donor organizations are still focused on the outdated, cost-ineffective vertical donor model, which conventionally left out funding for systems and chronic diseases, including heart disease.
To fill this void in global health, several private companies are using innovative public-private partnership models to support NCD and CVD programs.
Abt Associates is the implementation partner for the HealthRise program, funded by Medtronic Philanthropy and spanning four continents. It offers a complete cycle-of-care model that empowers patients and frontline healthcare workers and guides interventions that improve diagnosis, management, and control of hypertension and diabetes in underserved communities.
Abt is the evaluation partner for Healthy Heart Kenya, which is a public-private partnership between funder Astra Zeneca, five local implementing partners, the Kenyan Ministry of Health, and Abt. The aim of the project is to increase uptake of hypertension screening and management for more than 250,000 people. A rigorous impact and costing evaluation is planned to learn from the successes – and potential shortcomings – to roll out the program nationally and internationally.
While the Healthy Heart and HealthRise programs represent significant steps in the right direction to address the burgeoning burden of CVD in the developing world, more global, concerted programs are needed.
The first step in this direction will be to raise awareness – and this is where you come in. Heart disease was not even among the top 10 answers given in a study comparing what people in the U.S. think is the world’s biggest killer and what it actually is.
On this year’s World Heart Day, feel good at heart by spreading the word about the world’s No. 1 killer.

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