World Heart Federation: Cardiovascular Disease on Rise in Developing Countries

The Geneva-based World Heart Federation wants governments, especially in developing countries, to recognize cardiovascular disease as a serious health threat. The federation wants world leaders to put the issue on their health agenda during their summit at the United Nations later this month.

Chief Executive Secretary of the World Heart Federation Janet Voute says people have a lot of misconceptions about cardiovascular disease. "They think it is a disease of the rich. It is indeed not true. Of the 17 million deaths that take place annually, 80 percent of those take place in low and middle-income countries. So, myth Number One, it is a disease of the rich - untrue. They believe that it is a disease of the old. Again untrue, and particularly untrue in low and middle income countries, where cardiovascular disease hits people in their productive years," she said.

Ms. Voute says many more people aged 45 and up have cardiovascular disease in poor countries than in wealthy ones. She says addressing problems of heart disease and stroke are critical to economic development in these countries.

The federation says simple and cost-effective preventative measures can reduce death and disability from heart attacks and stroke by 50 percent. But, it says, these measures are not being taken because governments focus most of their attention on infectious diseases.

The federation says the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which aims to cut poverty in half by 2015, focus mainly on diseases, such as HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Ms. Voute says tackling infectious diseases is important, but chronic diseases must be addressed as well. "They must include heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and some cancers. They must be more inclusive of the diseases that the populations of these countries actually face. So, what we want to prevent from happening is an oversimplification. And what we call on Heads of State and the U.N. [to do] is to include the World Heart Federation and all its member organizations in this consultative process. We want to contribute. We want to help," she said.

The World Heart Federation blames the rise of cardiovascular disease in developing countries on urbanization. As people move into the cities, it says, they tend to eat less healthfully, engage in less physical activity and smoke more. As a consequence, it says, people get the diseases associated with these unhealthy life-styles.

The Federation says world leaders must recognize that good health is critical to reducing poverty, if they want the Millennium Development Goals to succeed.