Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in many countries – and often identified as a significant barrier towards human development. Nevertheless, the exact burden of the disease on a global scale has remained unclear.

Since the year 2011, the United Nations and World Health Organisation have recognised the burden that cardiovascular disease has on both health and the economy of nations worldwide. As a result, there has been a global attempt to increase the awareness of cardiovascular disease among the general public with the aim of reducing the incidence of such diseases.

Now, a new study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation takes a look at the data on heart problems from every country over the past 25 years to discover something rather alarming.

Worldwide burden of heart disease

The study looked at cardiovascular mortality data in high and middle income nations between the year 1990 and 2015. It was found that in just 2015 alone, there was an estimated 422.7 million cases of cardiovascular disease and 17.92 million deaths resulting from cardiovascular disease worldwide. Fortunately, the worldwide incidence of cardiovascular diseases has declined since 1995 and has since reached a plateau.

Further inspection of the date reveals that socioeconomic status played a big part in skewing the graph in favour of higher income nations.

As it stands, there was a drastic decrease in the number of cases in highly developed nations. However, the problem still remained a very big issue in low and middle income nations where the rates have only decreased marginally.

In the context of Asian countries, only higher income countries within the continent such as Japan, Korea and Singapore saw a noticeable decline in the number of cardiovascular disease cases and deaths. Meanwhile, in neighbouring lower income Asian nations, the rates of cardiovascular disease and deaths did not drop significantly.

This pattern was similarly seen all throughout the globe with the higher income nations of each particular continent seeing the greatest improvements over the past two decades, while there being little change in the middle and lower income nations. Despite the improvements in treatment and prevention, cardiovascular disease remains the major cause of healthcare related morbidity and mortality all around the world.

What can be done

The decline in the worldwide incidence of cardiovascular disease is certainly very good news, but it is still the leading cause of death worldwide and attributes up to one-third of all deaths. Moreover, lower income nations not seeing much improvement in survival rates over the past two decades clearly point towards an issue that needs to be addressed.

As the population of the world continues to grow older, cardiovascular disease will only continue to become a bigger issue even in higher income nations. In order to combat this, there are two major areas which need to be targeted - public awareness and cost of care.

Awareness requires continued education plans set in place to empower and improve the understanding of the general public about cardiovascular disease. With the right knowledge, each patient is able to arm themselves with the suitable preventative actions to slow or prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases.

Meanwhile, cost is an issue that needs to be addressed particularly in lower income nations. More than ever, there is a need for new and innovative ways to deliver low-cost treatment for people who are unable to access them. Presently, there are already affordable generic treatments. The trouble, however, lies in delivering the treatment.

While there is clear evidence that more work needs to be done especially in lower income nations, this should serve as motivation for us to strive forward in the battle against heart diseases. MIMS

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