Addressing the largest single cause of preventable deaths in Europe – cardiovascular disease

For further information, contact:

Tina Kiaer
Communications Officer
Noncommunicable Disease and Promoting Health through the Life-course
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Mobile: +45 30 36 37 76

Copenhagen and Saint Petersburg, 19 November 2015

People born in eastern Europe are almost five times more likely to die young due to a heart attack or stroke than those born in western Europe. Since 2000, this disparity in risk of premature death has significantly increased from a fourfold difference at the beginning of the century to the current nearly fivefold difference. These early and preventable deaths due to cardiovascular diseases are the greatest single contributor to the lower life expectancy in the east of Europe compared to the west.

The good news is that while the disparity has increased, the overall rate of dying young from these causes has decreased across the entire WHO European Region. In the east, the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke before the age of 65 years fell from 180 per 100 000 in 2000 to 141 per 100 000 in 2011. By comparison, in the west the risk fell from 46 to 30 per 100 000 in the same 10-year period. No single factor can account for the improvements seen in the past decade. A combination of influences, including some reduction in exposure to risk factors, improved health services, access to evidence-based interventions and better living conditions as a result of economic growth, account for this.

Both eastern and western parts of the European Region have shown improvement but the gap between them has widened. "The significant improvement in reducing cardiovascular disease mortality which we have seen since the turn of the century testifies that we can make dramatic progress. We cannot be complacent and accept that for a young adult in the eastern part of our Region the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is five times higher than for a peer in the west," said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

To address these inequities in cardiovascular health, the Regional Office for Europe and the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation will hold an International Conference on Cardiovascular Diseases in Saint Petersburg on 19–20 November 2015, at which policy-makers, technical experts and patient and professional associations will share knowledge, experience, challenges and successes. This is a landmark meeting where Member States, multiple partners including the largest nongovernmental organizations and professional associations in the field, and WHO will discuss the next steps in the response to these disparities.

Among the largest contributors to the growing disparity in cardiovascular health are the consumption of tobacco and alcohol and the deficiency of evidence-based interventions at the clinical level. The aim is to further promote the movement to control tobacco use and the harmful use of alcohol, to reduce salt intake and physical inactivity, and to establish ways of implementing an essential package of interventions for clinical approaches to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death in those already affected by cardiovascular disease.

Among the innovations to be discussed at the meeting will be those related to the improved management of risk at the clinical level. The meeting will promote the use of cardiovascular risk scores that summarize the 10-year risk of death from a cardiovascular event for any adult given basic parameters such as smoking status, age, sex, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Such scores can be used as the basis for providing targeted advice and closer control of blood pressure, effectively reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The meeting will also examine how health services in Europe can reduce the time from the onset of a heart attack or stroke to the start of effective emergency treatment. Minimizing this time saves vulnerable heart and brain tissue from being lost and maximizes the chances of survival and recovery.

The Conference, organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe in collaboration with the Russian Ministry of Health, will take place at the Federal Almazov Medical Research Centre in Saint Petersburg, a leading cardiology centre in the Russian Federation.