On Friday, 17 September 2021, Novartis hosted a session at the EHMA 2021 Annual Conference titled ‘Build Back Better. Time to act: the burden of cardiovascular diseases’. The session explored ways to build back better to prevent the emergence of silent pandemics, by learning from the COVID-19 response to tackle existing and future health challenges. The focus of the discussion was on building a comprehensive EU policy response to address the increasing burden of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and ensure that citizens can live healthier lives regardless of where they are born or live in the EU.
Ms Maria da Graça Carvalho (Co-Chair of the Heart Group, and Member of European Parliament, Portugal) addressed the necessity for investments in biomedical research and innovation within the EU, supported by collaboration among the Member States on data and scientific research in health. She called for stronger policy engagement at a European level and more public-private partnerships (PPP). Ms Carvalho emphasised that investment in CVD research is low in comparison to the disease burden and innovation in cardiovascular medicine lacks behind other medical areas, calling on the Union to act now to tackle the burden of CVDs.
Ms Donata Meroni (Head of Unit Health promotion and disease prevention, DG SANTE) recognised that although the EU has limited competency regarding public health, COVID-19 has demonstrated that holistic health actions and coordination at the EU level are essential and in the interest of European citizens. She introduced the Europe Beating Cancer Plan, which addresses risk factors and promotes healthy lifestyles, thus also preventing and reducing the prevalence of other non-communicable diseases, including CVDs. Ms Meroni shared the Commission’s emphasis on concrete and measurable actions to decrease risks factors for CVDs, rather than continuing to develop strategies and plans.
Dr Birgit Beger (CEO, EU Heart Network) welcomed the ambitious EU policy and regulations that address critical life factors contributing to CVDs. She emphasised that while the current EU4Health programme and Horizon Europe have a strong focus on cancer, CVDs should not be neglected and should also have a plan, as evidence has demonstrated the overwhelming burden of CVDs on the quality of life and mortality rates of European citizens. She concluded her address by calling on the stronger action from the Commission in the digital integration of health registries, as data, registry-based clinical trials, and safety surveillance of new treatments are crucial to improving the quality of care.
Prof Fausto Pinto (President, World Heart Federation) showed his support to further protect healthcare workers, strengthen primary care with a multidisciplinary approach, and improve vaccine equity. He called for more research and investment in the cardiovascular field, as the pandemic has highlighted how insufficient prevention and treatment of CVDs have significant repercussions on COVID-19 complications, resulting in excess mortality. He concluded his address by calling attention to the wealth of evidence and solutions that are available on CVDs, underlining that it is important to translate those evidence and medical knowledge into concrete actions and bring them to the people.
Dr Janneke Van der Kamp (Region Europe Head, Novartis Pharmaceuticals) referred to the ‘three Cs’ – Covid, Cancer, and CVDs – as the most pressing issues faced by European health systems. She asserted that cancer is being well prioritised; however, further attention to the burden of CVDs is essential, as they are the biggest killers in the EU. She underlined that the biggest issue in CVDs is the existence of bottlenecks preventing patients to be aware of prevention programmes, treatment therapies and existing tools. She concluded her address by recognising that political prioritisation and commitment are crucial and called for the creation of an EU CVD plan with actions that can be drilled down and implemented at the country level.
Dr Filipe Macedo (Director of Portuguese National CVD Programme) recognised that although COVID has a tropism for the elderly, life expectancy continues to increase in Portugal, which comes with increased risks of heart failure, degenerative valve diseases, and coronary diseases. He underlined that although Portugal might have better outcomes in mortality, it has worse outcomes in morbidity due to the growing costs of medical interventions and technologies. He concluded by highlighting the role of public-private collaborations in enhancing population health and the quality of care on offer.
The session ended with the panel agreeing that to fight this silent pandemic, it is essential to have political willingness and support, as well as more PPP to bring the available solutions to patients and the population.
You can read the full summary of the session discussion on page 34 of our EHMA 2021 Conference Report.