Resolve to Save Lives Initiative Targets Heart Disease and Infectious Diseases


SEATTLE — Throughout the world, there has been a rise in cardiovascular disease-related deaths as well as continued outbreaks of infectious diseases – two of the most serious public health issues affecting humanity today. To combat these health concerns, Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is launching the Resolve to Save Lives initiative in order to prevent heart disease and help strengthen defenses against disease outbreaks.

With $225 million of funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the initiative hopes to save 100 million lives from heart attacks, strokes and epidemics over the next 30 years. Frieden chose these areas to emphasize because he believes that the world is rapidly approaching a tipping point due to the slow progress made in reducing the prevalence of these health issues.

Frieden continues to assert that this initiative doesn’t seek new ways to prevent heart disease and infectious diseases but instead focuses on taking successful ideas and putting them to work. For example, in the battle to protect the heart, the main priority will be to remove artificial trans-fat from foods, which kills an estimated 540,000 people a year. Furthermore, there will be efforts to reduce the global sodium intake by 30 percent.

Altering the contents of food is much easier said than done. Trans-fat, a staple of the fast food industry, helps to prolong shelf life, and salt makes food taste better. Nevertheless, some major changes have been successful already. Wal-Mart decreased the sodium content of its food by 20 to 25 percent in the last five years, and the United Kingdom has already seen a reduction in mortality due to the decrease in sodium in its food.

The most important public health target of the Resolve to Save Lives initiative will be promoting proper hypertension control and treatment. Hypertension, which causes 10 million deaths a year, is only controlled for 14 percent of people even though medication remains relatively cheap. This means that 86 percent of people with hypertension needlessly suffer strokes, kidney failure, heart attacks and other potentially fatal symptoms due to a medical condition that is easily treatable.

Increasing access to hypertension medications will require much work at the political level, including changes to countries’ healthcare systems that allow for people to purchase generic brands for cheap and educate them on how to properly take the medicine as well.

With the constant news cycles of today, the world is unquestionably aware of and concerned about infectious diseases and epidemics potentially developing into pandemics. The Ebola and Zika viruses have been the most recent outbreaks but will certainly not be the last. In order to suppress and contain these dangerous epidemics, Frieden plans to fortify surveillance systems and laboratories, hire trained epidemiologists and equip rapid response teams, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

This will entail assessing countries’ response capabilities and appropriately concentrating funds and resources in areas where it’s most needed. The reality is that outbreaks are incredibly unpredictable so any single country without the ability to efficiently and effectively control the spread of a disease leaves the rest of the world vulnerable. Thus, this initiative needs to reinforce the epidemic response systems of every country in the world — by no means an easy feat.

The Resolve to Save Lives initiative is a huge step in the right direction but must not be considered the solution to the global public health issues of cardiovascular health and infectious diseases. Even with its substantial resources, the initiative can only accomplish so much to prevent heart disease. The responsibility to reduce heart disease-related deaths inevitably falls upon the people to incorporate more healthy decisions into their lifestyles and diets.

Akhil Reddy

Photo: Flickr


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