Cardiovascular Disease in the Developing World

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DENVER — While countries considered “developing” hope to remain on the path to increased stability and access to resources, not all developments have proven to be positive ones.

Western influences and increasing affluence have also introduced these countries to harmful substances like tobacco and unhealthy foods and lifestyles. Additionally, knowledge about the risks of these factors has been slow to reach the developing world, and marketing campaigns looking for profit have taken advantage of that. The result has been a dramatic increase of cardiovascular disease, accounting for almost 30 percent of deaths in the developing world in 2010. By 2030, the World Health Organization estimates that 23 million people will die annually from cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease manifests in various conditions that all revolve around the heart, including vascular disease, congenital heart disease and coronary artery disease. Diets high in salt, sugar and fat are known causes, as they can lead to high cholesterol and diabetes. Lack of exercise and tobacco use are the other most common risk factors. All of these factors have become more prevalent in the developing world, and the national and international communities have been slow to respond.

There have been social and economic impacts as a result of the increase. On the social spectrum, the prevalence of the disease has led to lifestyle changes, including relocation to areas near healthcare facilities, as well as the increased need for family members to care for the sick. As for the economy, the increase of the disease has created costs for the healthcare system as well as accounted for a smaller workforce. The common risk factors for cardiovascular disease often occur more frequently among younger generations, causing many to leave their jobs or require the care of another already in the workforce.

The effects of the disease have been further ingrained in societies because the developing world lacks the means to establish interventions necessary to prevent adopting risky habits, and global health efforts have largely failed to scale up efforts in light of more media-prevalent diseases like malaria and Ebola.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is one of the few organizations to take initiative and develop a plan of response to the growing problem of cardiovascular disease in the developing world, hoping to scale back the growth of the disease. The organization emphasizes raising awareness to bring the issue to the forefront of international response priorities by bringing evidence of its increase and causes to the attention of the international community.

In the short term, the IOM sees feasibility in campaigns to reduce tobacco usage, salt consumption and administering clinical prevention. The long-term plan is far more challenging, and includes many of the same steps necessary to minimize a slew of other detrimental diseases. Things like timely and adequate access to healthcare and improved nutrition to mothers and children are essential to minimizing risk factors.

Collaboration on all fronts is a vital element in the IOM’s plan. It sees potential for agreements to be made by organizations like the World Health Organization and the World Heart Federation with NGOs and national governments to start nutrition campaigns and evaluate food sources and distributors.

As the Institute of Medicine begins to implement its plan through the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the goal is to mobilize as many organizations as possible in an effort to minimize cases of cardiovascular disease and institute only positive developments in the developing world.

Maggie Wagner

Sources: World Heart Federation, Health Affairs, IOM, Web MD, WHO
Photo: Mayo Clinic

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