Boosting health in Europeans: Introducing a cardiovascular & diabetes health check (Guest blog)

2022 brought a lot of attention to cardiovascular health and diabetes in Europe. With people living with cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and diabetes at increased mortality risk following a COVID-19 infection, these diseases have driven the vulnerability of big parts of the population in the crisis years since 2020.  

A serious health challenge: CVD – causing the most deaths in the EU 

European institutions have embraced CVD and diabetes as serious health challenges which need to be addressed. The fact that CVDs are still causing most deaths in the European Union (1.8 million per year, which translates to 5,000 lives lost per day on average) underlines the magnitude of the problem. To tackle this issue, in the Joint Action on cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, the European Commission has set aside 55 million Euro for Member States and another 10 million Euro for stakeholders to develop programmes to address this challenge. The funding comes in addition to concrete recommendations on CVD and diabetes as part of the Healthier Together initiative on non-communicable diseases. To our knowledge, 24 countries have shown interest, and the projects will be introduced in the course of 2023.  

A Cardiovascular and Diabetes Health Check as an addition to the Joint Action 

As part of the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH), EFPIA’s CV Health platform has welcomed the activities of the Commission and we are looking forward to seeing the actions unveil. At the same time, EACH has made clear that – acknowledging the magnitude of the challenge – the Joint Action will not be enough. At the end of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU in December 2022, the Council started to show increased interest in fighting CVD and diabetes to boost Europe’s population health and crisis resilience.  

In an event organized by the European Society of Cardiology, the European Diabetes Forum and the Czech Cardiac Society, the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU supported the idea of a Cardiovascular and Diabetes Health Check, taking a life course and personalised approach to identifying risk factors and preventing major events. Experts like Professor Francesco Cosentino of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have made clear that early detection is necessary to reduce premature and avoidable mortality on the continent. Although the burden of CVD and diabetes is very high, there are also some good news: most deaths could be prevented, and early detection is a key factor to achieve this objective. Please watch statements of participants of the event here.

Health Checks are an investment in millions of lives Health Checks are easy to implement at the primary care level and it is cost-effective to do so. Measuring the 5 top risk factors for heart attacks and strokes can already provide a good first diagnosis to identify Europeans who should take better care:  

  • 85% of all CVD deaths are caused by heart attacks and strokes, which are manifestations of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) and apart from high mortality, they are associated with high rates of hospitalisation, significant disability and increased healthcare costs. Although a large proportion of CVD is preventable, deaths attributable to CVD continue to increase, mainly due to inadequate prevention of atherosclerotic events. 
  • The five major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes are very well known, but are often neither detected nor acted upon:   
  • Hyperlipidemia (bad cholesterol LDL-C) 
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • Smoking 
  • Diabetes Mellitus 
  • Obesity 
  • A number of non-atherosclerotic heart diseases are inherited and diagnosed too little, too late. Patients with such conditions would also benefit from a health check capable of improving early diagnosis and providing precious counselling.  

All of the above can be modified in a way that the risk for a heart attack or a stroke decreases significantly and hundreds of thousands of Europeans could be saved 

Ultimately, such policies are the responsibility of Member States which must implement robust national CVD and diabetes plans, but the EU should provide impetus and guidance. Next to the European Commission and the Council of the EU, Members of the European Parliament have raised their voices for better cardiovascular health, calling for a specific Cardiovascular Health Plan during the next Commission’s tenure starting in the second half of 2024. With European Parliament elections coming up next year, the call for a European Cardiovascular & Diabetes Health Check offers a positive vision for 50 million people living with CVD and their families and friends.  

Christian Thonke

Christian Thonke is currently chairing the CV Health Platform of EFPIA and working as a Director Public Affairs...
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Victoria Tzouma

Victoria Tzouma is currently co-chairing the EFPIA CV Health Platform and working as Senior Manager International...
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