September 29th is World Heart Day. World Heart Day acknowledges cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke. CVD is the world’s leading cause of death and morbidity, claiming 17.9 million lives annually. Amid the global pandemic, heart disease prevention and care are more important than ever, especially since heart patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their underlying condition.
Why care about CVD now? It is the #1 cause of death in the world, accounting for 31% of all global deaths.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) encompasses a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels. They include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease and other conditions. CVD has many causes- smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and even exposure to air pollution, to name a few. The good news is that many of these underlying problems can be controlled or managed through lifestyle and behavior changes.
4 out of 5 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease are a result of heart attacks and strokes, and one-third of these deaths occur prematurely in people under 70 years of age. Individuals at high risk for CVD may have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, and may be overweight or obese. These risk factors can be measured relatively easily in primary care facilities and on-site clinics. Furthermore, based on 2017 data, the American Heart Association has found the highest mortality rate from CVD is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. CVD prevalence was high in the United States, Central Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Ways to approach the double-edged threat of CVD & COVID-19
People with underlying health conditions, including CVD, are more vulnerable to COVID-19. To make matters worse, potential cardiac complications may occur following some cases of COVID-19. Through epidemiological and pharmaceutical scientific trials, scientists are still learning about these possible complications. At this point, research suggests that CVD is emerging as a common risk factor for poor outcomes and increased complications among COVID-19 patients.
Patients are faced with a double-edged threat – the threat to develop a severe case of COVID-19 along with fear to seek ongoing care.
Early data also suggests and indicates minorities, including Black, Hispanic and Latino people around the world are both disproportionately impacted by both COVID-19 and are historically more vulnerable to cardiovascular and stroke risks. The same social determinants of health that put people at higher risk for adverse effects of COVID-19 also impact cardiac health outcomes.
What can employers do to help? Leverage “Use Your Heart” World Heart Day theme.
The “Use Your Heart” theme for World Heart Day 2020 is actually about using your head, your influence as an individual and an employer, and your compassion to look beyond yourself to support the most vulnerable in our society. The World Heart Federation has produced information to spread the word on CVD & COVID-19, including resources on prevention, transmission and vulnerability.
Employer actions can be most effective in three main areas: addressing awareness, promoting prevention and providing reassurance that the advantages of going to the hospital, emergency room or doctor’s surgery to receive care if you are at risk for heart attack and stroke far outweigh the risks of contracting COVID-19. Telemedicine may be able to help provide access in some countries, but it should not be seen as a full replacement for in-person care.
Employers can take the following steps
- Raise awareness with your workforce on prevention.
- Include World Heart Day as part of your company’s health and well-being communications.
- Create a tobacco-free policy - data show that within 2 years of stopping smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease is substantially reduced.
- Educate your workforce about the importance of continuing to manage routine care and seek treatment during the pandemic.
- Review coverage design in your local plans. Often preexisting conditions or congenital heart disease may be excluded conditions in some country plans. Look to close gaps where they exist.
- Incentivize healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as by providing information on proper nutrition, subsidizing healthy snacks and meals-- including in vending machines- promoting physical activity through indoor and outdoor walking paths or virtual exercise options, and communicating ways to reduce alcohol consumption.
- Share knowledge, recommendations and strategies to inspire others to become heart healthy.
- Promote blood pressure medication adherence by facilitating access to medications and allowing for larger script fills in the places where the drug supply chain may be disrupted due to COVID-19.
- Remind employees not to “die of doubt” – reassuring hospitals are still the safest place in the event of a health crisis – even during a pandemic.
- Promote blood pressure adherence by easing access to medications and allowing for larger prescription fulfillment in places where the drug supply chain may be disrupted due to COVID-19.