August 09, 2021
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 18.6 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 serve 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, prevented, or managed through lifestyle and behavior changes.
4 out of 5 deaths attributed to CVD 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 2019 data, the American Heart Association has found several countries in Eastern Europe, Central and Southeast Asia, and Oceania have the highest rates of stroke mortality. Countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have among the highest mortality rates attributable to ischemic stroke. Also, intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) mortality is highest in Oceania, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa while mortality attributable to Subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is highest in parts of Asia.
Ways to approach the double-edged threat of CVD & COVID-19
- Heart disease was linked with a nearly four-fold odds of severe COVID-19
- Odds are more than doubled for hypertension and diabetes
- While they are 80% higher for smokers
Data also indicates minorities, including Black, Hispanic and Latinx people around the world are disproportionately impacted by both COVID-19 - 24% of Latinx women have lost a family member to 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?
Employer actions on heart health can be most effective in three main areas: equity, prevention and community. World Heart Day 2021 is about leveraging and utilizing the global power of digital health to improve awareness, prevention and management of CVD. This last year has shown that telehealth and other virtual solutions have the ability and power to globally connect us, and our hearts. These platforms and data have the capability to bridge the resource gap generating and creating access beyond traditional brick and mortar health care. This enables preventive visits and facilitates an enhanced community for your employees regardless of where they sit around the globe.
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. The World Heart Federation has produced information to spread the word on CVD & COVID-19, including resources on prevention, transmission and vulnerability.
- Create a tobacco-free policy - data shows that your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker 5 to 15 years after quitting.
- Educate your workforce about the importance of continuing to manage routine care and seek treatment.
- 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.