Here's how we can save 100 million lives

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Heart disease can be prevented.
Heart disease can be prevented.

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s number one killer, accounting for one in every three deaths worldwide or 18 million people every year.

Over three quarters of these deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) yet less than one percent of the more than US$35 billion (R458 billion) spent on development assistance in health goes to preventing cardiovascular disease.

A group of disorders

This is according to a Lancet medical journal editorial about a simultaneously-launched global health initiative to prevent 100 million deaths from heart attacks and strokes in LMICs within the next 30 years.

Cardiovascular diseases are “a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels” and 80% of the resulting deaths are caused by heart attacks and strokes, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Backed by US$225-million (R2 945 million) worth of funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and housed at the global non-profit organisation Vital Strategies, the initiative is called Resolve. Its focus is to prevent heart attacks and strokes in some of the worst-affected countries and groups within countries over the next five years, but the money will also be spent on an associated programme to prevent and respond to epidemics.

“There are proven strategies every country can use to prevent deaths from heart disease, stroke and epidemics – but progress has been painfully slow,” said Dr Tom Frieden, Resolve’s president and co-author of the Lancet paper, in a statement.

Salt a major contributor

But strategic investments in three areas, “increasing global control of blood pressure, sodium reduction, and eliminating artificial trans fats – could deliver rapid progress”.

According to the Lancet paper, dietary sodium, or salt, is a major contributor to high blood pressure which in turn places a person at significant risk of developing heart disease. Resolve’s aim is to reduce global sodium intake by 30%.

Last year legislation in South Africa to reduce salt in processed food came into effect to try combat the country’s excessively high salt consumption. Some estimates suggest some South Africans’ salt intake is as high as 40g per day, compared to the 5g recommended by the WHO.

Artificial trans-fat is a “toxic chemical” that raises the risk of heart attacks and death. There is evidence to show that eliminating these from foods, and replacing them with healthier alternatives, can be done at no cost to food manufacturers or changes in taste.

According to Resolve trans-fats cause over half a million deaths globally a year and they are calling for their total elimination in foods.

Cause of death largely preventable

According to international research, high blood pressure kills more people globally than any other single condition – resulting in the deaths of about 10 million people a year.

Reducing salt intake can help prevent and manage high blood pressure but access to medicines, currently cheap across the world, are also needed to save lives, noted the Lancet paper.

But only 14% of the 1.4 billion people on the planet with high blood pressure have it under control, placing them at risk of stroke, heart attacks, kidney damage and other health issues, according to Resolve.

Additionally, noted in the Lancet, “[f]ewer than one in six people live in countries implementing these three key interventions”.

“The world’s leading cause of death is largely preventable, and we can’t sit back while people suffer needlessly,” said philanthropist and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We know what measures are proven to help reduce sickness and death from cardiovascular diseases. Every step we take to spread those measures will make a difference. Saving 100 million lives would be an extraordinary achievement – and it’s within our reach.” – Health-e News.

Image credit: iStock

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