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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Heart toll could be cut by 50%
Patient
Heart disease is increasing across the world
More than half of deaths and disability from heart disease and strokes across the world could be prevented by simple measures, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO estimates that more than 12 million people world-wide die each year from cardiovascular disease.


The world once thought of cardiovascular disease as a Western problem, but clearly this is not the case

Dr Anthony Rodgers
It says that a greater focus on reducing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking would dramatically cut this figure.

A dual approach is needed, says the WHO. Broad-based health education campaigns and initiatives to reduce the fat and salt content of food should be introduced alongside the greater use of drugs for people known to be at specific risk.

However, it warns that if no action is taken, the toll from cardiovascular disease will continue to rise sharply - particularly in the developing world.

Dr Anthony Rodgers, of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, one of the authors of the report, said: "The world once thought of cardiovascular disease as a Western problem, but clearly this is not the case.

"We are seeing that conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol are much more prominent in developing countries than previously thought and contribute significantly to their overall disease burden."

Blood pressure

The WHO has calculated that high blood pressure alone is a significant cause of about 50% of cardiovascular disease worldwide. High cholesterol causes about one-third.

Other significant factors include an inactive lifestyle, tobacco use and low fruit and vegetable intake.

Overall, approximately 75% of cardiovascular disease can be attributed to established risk factors - more than has been previously thought.

In total, the report says, 10-30% of adults in almost all countries suffer from high blood pressure.

But a further 50-60% would be in better health if they had lower blood pressure.

Even small reductions in blood pressure for this "silent majority" would reduce their heart attack and stroke risk. A very similar pattern occurs for cholesterol.

The WHO says drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure could be much more widely used in combination in the developed world, and are becoming increasingly affordable in the developing world.

It estimates the combination would cost less than $14 to treat each person annually. But it accepts that developing countries might need help to meet the bill.

Dr Derek Yacht, a WHO expert on noncommunicable disease, said: "Our new research finds that many established approaches to cutting cardiovascular disease risk factors are very inexpensive, so that even countries with limited health budgets can implement them and cut their cardiovascular disease rate by 50%.

More resources

The World Heart Federation welcomed the report, but said the WHO itself could do more.

WHF president Professor Mario Maranhão said: "If the WHO's mission is to help the world to focus on major health risks, then the political will must be supported by financial resources.

"Cardiovascular disease causes one third of global deaths, yet less than 5% of the WHO's regular headquarters budget is currently devoted to CVD, and this is substantially less at a regional and country level.

"Until now, fighting heart disease has not been a priority."

See also:

11 Oct 02 | Health
14 Oct 02 | Health
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