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Over 5 million people across Europe will suffer from cardiovascular disease this year and the ability for patients to gain access to the best of treatments remains mixed across the Member States. On the occasion of World Heart Day (26 September), the Health First Europe alliance of patient groups, health care professionals and medical technology innovators call for an improved strategy to combat the deadly disease. Critical in this fight is an increased availability of patient information, greater emphasis on the opportunities of patient mobility and greater investment in innovative therapies and technologies that help to prevent the disabilities and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in the European Union.

The large numbers of heart disease sufferers do not look like decreasing as lifestyle habits such as smoking and poor diet contribute to the heart problems in patients across Europe. “Heart disease is not at epidemic proportions and large strides have been made in innovative treatments for patients. But we should not rest on our laurels as more can be done to prevent heart disease as well as insuring new treatments are universally accessible and well known to patients,” said Mel Read, Honorary Chairperson of Health First Europe.

Each year in Europe, more than 600.000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed, with some 330,000 new cases for the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain alone. Characterised by unacceptably high mortality rates and high rates of hospital admissions, investment in new and innovative technologies is necessary to stay one step ahead of the disease. For instance, patients suffering from potential cardiac arrest, a life threatening condition, are finding new life in therapies such as Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT). CRT is delivered through a special implanted pulse generator and helps the heart contract at the proper time and in a coordinated fashion again. Studies have shown that CRT greatly contributes to improving the quality of life of the patient; it reduces the risk of mortality but also the number of hospitalization days, and therefore the financial burden on healthcare systems. “It really is astounding how far we have travelled in such as short time” says Professor Felix Unger of the European Medical Institute, and Health First Europe member. “I am myself a cardiac surgeon and performed the first implantation of an artificial heart back in 1986. It is amazing to think that these types of medical technologies have now become so sophisticated that they can in effect administer ‘first aid’ to heart attack victims themselves”. Other life life-saving and life-enhancing therapies include percutaneous coronary interventions (angioplasty with a stent for example).

On World Heart Day 2004, Health First Europe encourages governments to step up efforts to ensure that patients suffering from heart conditions have equitable access to reliable innovative treatments. “EU Health Commissioner David Byrne has called for health to become a central factor in decision-making. His message, health equals wealth, is a policy we broadly support, knowing that for many patients their health is the basis of a productive and fulfilling life. This is certainly true for cardiac health and there is no reason we can not win the fight against this disease, starting today” stated Mel Read, Honorary Chairperson of Health First Europe.