Boosting cardiovascular health in the COVID-19 era

A blog by Christian Thonke, Director Global Affairs, Region Europe, Novartis and Sean Lybrand, Executive Director, International Health Systems Policy, Amgen

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is Europe’s number one killer, taking the lives of 5,000 Europeans every day. CVDs, including stroke, heart attack and heart failure, cause one-third of all premature deaths. They can also have a profound impact on the quality of life of those affected and add to the burden on families, communities, and health systems.

Meaningful progress has been made in improving outcomes over several decades, but these gains have begun to slow. In some countries, these gains are being lost and there are growing gaps between European countries in mortality and morbidity. In short, your chances of survival and recovery can be shaped by where you are when you have a heart attack or stroke.

COVID-19 made things worse, disrupting detection and care, and putting people with CVD at elevated risk of hospitalisation and death. The pandemic exposed existing disparities in cardiovascular care, including variation in the proportion of undetected CVDs, access to care, and the use of digital health tools to manage at-risk patients and drive better decisions.

It is time to take stock and chart a course to more equitable cardiovascular health. A new report by PwC, commissioned by the EFPIA CVD Network, set out to understand the impact of the pandemic on the 60 million CVD patients living in Europe. More than that, the report –Boosting cardiovascular health in Europe: towards more resilient and equitable healthcare – offers a series of concrete recommendations designed to better position European health systems to cope with future crises.

Key recommendations:
  • Strengthen population screening
    • Broaden screening programmes for genetic and metabolic risk factors
    • Simplify access to screening, especially for vulnerable populations
  • Ensure treatment initiation, maintenance, and follow-up for at-risk patients
    • Gear the system towards rewarding outcomes
    • Strengthen digital health and information sharing
  • Foster data-driven decision making
    • Collect/leverage data to drive CVD insights, support clinical decision-making and value-based care delivery, and inform CVD policymaking

These conclusions, elaborated upon in the full report, call on all CVD stakeholders to play their part in advancing prevention, detection and care, by using the tools we have at our disposal. They put the spotlight on preventing ill-health (including secondary prevention for those who have already suffered a cardiovascular event), and smarter use of digital technologies. And they remind us that information is power: we must harness data to ensure citizens, clinicians and policymakers make informed decisions on how to stay healthy and use resources well.
Improving population health can make Europe more resilient should another acute crisis strike in future. But the report also points the way forward in preparing for a crisis that we know is coming: the rise on chronic diseases that comes with ageing societies.

We hope the report will spark conversations and actions that catalyse the use of screening, treatment and rehabilitation for all patients – no matter where they live.