EU urged to do more to tackle heart disease epidemic

Written by Martin Banks on 11 October 2017 in News

A high level meeting in the European Parliament was told that more preventive action is urgently needed to curb an epidemic caused by cardiovascular disease.

From L-R, Dr Ulf Landmesser, Medical Director, Medical Department of Cardiology, Charite University Hospital, Berlin, Kristyna Cilikova, vice chair Diagnoza FH, Czech Republic, Dr Michal Vrablik, Chairman of the Czech Atherosclerosis Society, Dr Lale Tokgozoglu, President of the European Atherosclerosis Society, Nessa Childers MEP, Susan Connolly, Faculty of Medicine, National Heart & Lung Institute, Imperial College London | Photo credit: Daniël Rys

The event heard that each year, cardiovascular disease, or CVD, causes over 1.8 million deaths in the EU - almost 40 per cent of all deaths in the EU.

CVD is not only a leading cause of death in Europe, but also a huge economic burden on the European economy - despite it being preventable. 

The hearing was told that it costs Europe’s healthcare systems an estimated €111bn in direct expenditure and significantly contributes to indirect expenditure through consequential productivity losses and informal care. This strain on national healthcare systems equates to approximately €218 per person, per year.


The meeting on Tuesday was organised in association with The Parliament Magazine with the support of multinational biopharma company Amgen. 

A panel of international experts, including Dr Lale Tokgozoglu, President of the European Atherosclerosis Society, addressed a range of issues.

Warning that CVD will become “the number one killer” in Europe in less than 15 years, she described it as an “epidemic” that imposes a “huge burden” both on patients and healthcare budgets.

She said, “There are some success stories, such as in Finland where campaigns to cut smoking have also resulted in a decrease in the CVD mortality rate.

“But it will become the number one killer by 2030 unless something urgent is done now.”

Her remarks were partly echoed by Dr Michal Vrablik, Chair of the Czech Atherosclerosis Society, who stressed the value of preventative action to combat CVD, saying this was “critical.”

He told participants, “We have the science and all the evidence but the challenge now is putting all this into practice in trying to cut the incidence and spread of CVD in the coming years.”

Dr Vrablik also emphasised the importance of offering “incentives” both to clinicians and patients themselves.

This was also highlighted by another speaker, Dr Ulf Landmesser, Medical Director, Medical Department of Cardiology, Charite University Hospital, Berlin, Germany.

One possibility could be to introduce subsidies for healthy foods and “make unhealthy foods more expensive.”

One particular concern, he noted, is that some 1.4 million people under the age of 75 die from CVD each year while there are 700,000 fatalities annually for those under 65.

He said, “It is not enough to tell someone that, for example, a nutritional diet is good for them - you also have to provide incentives for people to adapt their lifestyles.”

Kristyna Cilikova, Vice-Chair of Diagnoza FH in the Czech Republic, spoke about reducing the recurrence of heart attacks and strokes in the EU.

She focused on familial hyperchloresterolemia, or FH, which is inherited and leads to high levels of cholesterol. People with such a condition, she said, are up to 20 per cent more at risk of CVD than the rest of the population.

While screening programmes in countries like the Netherlands have led to reduced incidence of the FH, there still needs to be more awareness of this condition.

The EU also has a role to play here, she argued, by setting uniform rules across the bloc on the financial reimbursement of anti-FH drugs.

Another panellist was Dr Susan Connolly, of the Faculty of Medicine at the National Heart and Lung Institute at London’s Imperial College.

Dr Connolly pointed out that people who suffer a CVD event have a one in five chance of another one within the next 10 years.

Efforts to combat the problem were well established in some EU member states, such as the UK with its national health checks for people over the age of 40 and the FH screening programme in Slovenia.

Even so, the CVD data across much of Europe “makes grim reading,” she added.

“CVD may not necessarily be a sexy subject but it is a major issue. It is a multi-faceted problem that also requires a multi-faceted approach in tackling it.”

The event was chaired by Irish MEP Nessa Childers, who told the audience that, as a deputy, she had worked in the public health domain since 2009.

People with obesity were among the “at risk” patients for CVD and the cost of treating ill health caused by obesity was estimated to be some €1.2 trillion. She also said that obesity was linked to at least six different types of cancers.

“This,” she said, “is a frightening situation.”

She added, “People are being given advice on healthier lifestyles but, if you look at the figures we have seen at this event, this does not seem to be working and we need to ask why that is the case.”

In a Q&A session after the main keynote presentations, Marleen Kestens, of the European Heart Network, said that when it comes to tackling the rising levels of cardiovascular disease one of the problems is the absence of reliable data.

She said, “The data on CVD is not being collected in a uniform way and that makes it very difficult to make comparisons between different member states. This is significant because without such accurate and reliable data it is hard to give guidance and advice on where national policies might change.”

Those present, including MEPs and healthcare experts, co-signed a letter to be sent to EU health ministers which calls for improved strategies for the detection of high-risk patients, better access to care and the development of synergies at EU level.


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine


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