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World Heart Day: Escalating cardiovascular risks, deaths linked to COVID-19

ADEZE OJUKWU

As people and nations, mark this year’s World Heart Day (WHD), the escalation of cardiovascular diseases and related mortalities-cum-morbidities, due to coronavirus, remains disheartening.

This treatise is an annual campaign observed on September 29, specifically established to promote policies and activities that encourage optimal functioning of the heart, which ‘is the muscular organ that pumps blood throughout the body through the circulatory system.’

It’s multifarious roles in ‘supplying oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and removing carbon dioxide and other wastes,’ are quite significant to quality life.

Apart from genetic and environmental factors, lifestyle and dietary patterns can impair this critical muscle.

However, coronavirus is also threatening this blood-pumping vessel, through various dangerous routes.

The untoward trend, is clearly evident from several studies and hospital records.
Mount Sinai researchers recently reported that ‘myocardial injury, also known as heart damage, is prevalent among patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and is associated with higher risk of mortality.’

The scientists, who published their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology said ‘more specifically, a serious myocardial injury can triple the risk of death.’

Against these weighty circumstances, this year’s edition is being observed with much trepidation, over unprecedented constraints.

In Nigeria and other resource-poor settings, severe hardship, inflation, fuel crises and unemployment have, undoubtedly raised fears over the future.

Mounting anxieties tipped by unrelenting financial uncertainties, according to medical experts, are triggering serious cardiac maladies.’

Other Non-Communicable Diseases(NCDs) such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and Chronic Kidney Failure(CKD) are also being heavily affected by the pulmonary virus.

However, cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is generally viewed as ‘the number one cause of death on the planet,’ seems the most affected according experts.

The World Heart Federation(WHF), in an online report, identified major causes ‘as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.’

Other factors include ‘air pollution and rare-cum-neglected conditions notably Chagas Disease and cardiac amyloidosis.’

President of the group, Professor Karen Sliwa, said ‘COVID-19 pandemic is creating a perfect storm for heart health,’ which he attributed to three main factors.

‘People with COVID-19 and heart disease are among those with the highest risk of death and of developing severe conditions.

Secondly, after the virus attacks, the heart might be adversely affected even in people without previous heart conditions, potentially resulting in long-term damage.

Finally, fear of the virus has already led to a sharp decline in hospital visits by heart patients for routine and emergency care.’

According to Prof Sliwa, this year’s date is unique. ‘Public health is front and centre, as societies face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the physical, emotional and economic toll it has taken.’

‘Almost a million lives have been lost to COVID-19 this year. As a comparison, an estimated 17.8 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2017.’

‘While patients steer clear of hospitals out of fear of catching the virus, their health is compromised even further.’

The federation, he stressed has the singular purpose of uniting the global health community to beat these infarctions.

‘This year, we are asking individuals, communities and governments to ‘use heart’ to make better choices for society, our loved ones and ourselves.’

‘The ‘Use Heart’ call to action is about using our head, influence and compassion to beat cardiovascular disease, the world’s number one killer.’

‘Given the current situation, WHF is also calling for recognition and urgent protection of frontline healthcare providers.’

He made a passionate appeal for more action across communities and regions.
‘In these trying times, it is paramount that we pay special attention to those, who are at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, as well as better understand how the virus is affecting the hearts of otherwise healthy people.’

‘COVID-19 has created a perfect storm, in which those people with cardiovascular disease fare poorly, and those at risk don’t seek necessary treatment.’

‘The heart and the entire vascular system are in danger and we need to act now. The world has not experienced a event on this scale in decades. Today we have a unique opportunity to unite, to mobilise our skills and to use our heart to act.’

Addressing smoking to diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and air pollution is central to mitigating this infirmity.

According to the association, this requires not only individual behavioural change but societal solidarity.

The lead global heart forum called for concerted efforts in managing the disease, due to the current health disaster.

‘We don’t know what course the pandemic will take in the future but we do know that taking care of our hearts right now is more important than ever.’

‘We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the healthcare profession, national healthcare systems and our individual responsibilities, for our own health and for the vulnerable in society.’

‘In the time of COVID-19, CVD patients are faced with a double-edged threat. Not only are they more at risk of developing severe forms of the virus, but they may also be afraid to seek ongoing care for their hearts.’

The group called on governments and individuals to promote heart friendly initiatives, due to the centrality of the blood-pumping organ to human life and sustainability.

‘Our campaign is asking governments to implement policies and initiatives such as sugar taxes, smoking bans and reducing air pollution.’

Also individuals need ‘to understand what it takes to live a heart healthy life and to act on that knowledge and behavioural changes.’

Furthermore health care professionals, need to help your patients make positive changes for their heart health, while employers should make efforts to invest in the heart health of their employees.’

The coalition urged communities ‘to look beyond self and act in ways that support the most vulnerable in society,’ such as those affected by this malaise.

‘With equity at the centre of WHF’s work, it is vital to make access to healthcare, healthy foods and a healthy way of life accessible and affordable to all people,’ WHF boss added.

‘Regulating unhealthy products, while creating healthy environments are examples of such solutions for governments and communities.’

Meanwhile the foundation has embarked on a global study which ‘aims to better describe cardiovascular outcomes and identify risk factors associated with severe complications and death in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.’

‘This study is already underway in Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Ghana, India, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Sudan. It is expected to publish preliminary data in late 2020, with a complete analysis in 2021.’

‘Hospitals around the world are currently preparing to start patient recruitment for the study and many additional countries will join the study in the coming months.’

Given its prospects, this research is certainly cheery news for a distressed world and also for Nigeria, with a huge population of persons with heart-related disorders.

The inclusion of the country in this pilot project is not only exhilarating, but comforting.

.Ojukwu is a journalist and public policy analyst

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