Europe urgently needs a more coordinated approach in the fight against cardiovascular disease to take full advantage of technological advances and the pandemic-driven political focus on improved healthcare, a Friends of Europe debate heard Tuesday.
Taking the right decisions now can make Europe a global champion in the race to kill the leading killer of European Union citizens, said participants in the online event.
“There are tremendous developments in medicine at this point in time. A massive opportunity for cardiovascular disease,” (7:48) explained Stephan Achenbach, President of the European Society of Cardiology, Chairman of the Department of Cardiology and Professor of Medicine at the University of Erlangen.
“We have new drugs, completely new ways of developing drugs, artificial intelligence, genetics, genomics, robotics, [and] much more, but we need research to apply these developments to cardiovascular disease,” added Achenbach, who had been operating on an emergency patient just hours before the debate. “We can achieve a lot … if we join forces and work on this together.” (8:57)
Achenbach was among several speakers and contributors, which included policymakers, healthcare professionals, industry and advocacy groups, who discusses Europe’s role in tackling heart diseases responsible for the deaths of 1.8mn Europeans every year with a cost of over €210bn to the economy.
Jean-Luc Lemercier, Corporate Vice-President of Europe, Middle East, Africa, Canada and Latin America at Edwards Lifesciences, was among those calling for a European plan on cardiovascular disease to improve resilience and health of citizens.
“Such a plan would represent the concerted integration of the solutions and innovations that truly make a difference in the lives of patients,” (31:26) Lemercier said.
To that end, he announced the launch of the roadmap, EU Action Plan for Better Cardiovascular Health, drawn up by MedTech Europe for a European cardiovascular disease plan covering a full range of problems from prevention to treatment and quality of life, with a focus on digital and innovative solutions.
Among its recommendations are calls for Europe to facilitate sharing of best practice; a common information system to register and monitor cardiovascular diseases; rewards for innovation that improves patient outcomes; and accelerated digitalisation.
Calls for a more joined-up European approach also came from members of the European Parliament on the panel.
“The holistic approach must be at the centre of the preoccupations of European politicians and we now have an opportunity,” (15:25) said Manuel Pizarro, MEP and Member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL). “The COVID-19 pandemic shows to everybody that health threats are, of course, an international problem, a European problem and they deserve a European integrated answer.”
Right now, however, there is a lack of cooperation that means heart disease campaigners “are not on the winning team”, asserted Tuija Brax, Vice President of the European Heart Network and Secretary General for the Finnish Heart Association.
She called for improved communications to raise the profile of heart disease among the public and policymakers that can generate the sort of emotion and “fear” around cancer and mental health.
“We have to change … this is not going to be okay unless we join our forces to make a better common message,” Brax said. “There is this danger that we are a little bit too satisfied with ourselves … we need to really raise our voice. We need to be a little bit aggressive.” (1:02:53)
An integrated EU approach could also overcome inequalities associated with cardiovascular disease, both within and among European countries, argued Juozas Olekas, MEP and former health minister of Lithuania.
“We should arrange the minimum standards for detection, protection, treatment and daily life at the European level,” (39:07) he said. “We need to strengthen European competence in the field of health … and eliminate all the inequalities that are currently costing our citizens their lives.”
Calls for an EU action plan on heart disease were also backed by video messages from MEPs Brando Benifei and Isabel Estrada Carvalhais, both members of the MEP Heart Group.
Pierre Delsaux, Deputy Director-General at the European Commission Directorate General
for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), agreed on the need for more coordination at the EU level. He said a strong European Health Union was “fundamental” to achieving more equality among member states.
However, at the moment, there is no EU plan on cardiovascular disease and there should be a realistic approach to taking action within the existing framework.
That includes working more broadly to tackle obesity, alcohol, tobacco and other lifestyle factors; using revised EU pharmaceutical legislation to fight heart disease; funding the fight against non-communicable diseases through the EU4Health Programme; and mobilising the health research potential of the €672.5bn post-pandemic Recovery and Resilience Facility.
Delsaux underscored the Commission’s readiness to work with other stakeholders in taking forward the fight against Europe’s biggest killer.
“I don’t believe that as the European Commission we can develop such a thing in isolation. We need to be in close contact with the stakeholders,” (49:10) he said. “The message is clear: my door and the doors of my colleagues are open because we cannot develop and fight such a disease without your input. We need to, and we will, listen to you.”
The last 50 years have witnessed substantial progress in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. However, despite this progress, cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of mortality in the EU with almost two million deaths every year. The pandemic has further shed light on the issue with 65% of patients who died from COVID-19 having had a cardiovascular comorbidity.
Announced in November 2020, the European Health Union is a game changer to tackle the burden of chronic diseases in an ageing Europe. Within this framework, cardiovascular diseases have yet to benefit from a stand-alone coordinated strategy at the EU level, which would seek to improve prevention, treatment and care for patients.
Organised with MedTech Europe, and supported by Edwards Lifesciences, “The ticking time bomb: cardiovascular diseases” debate organised last year set out a renewed sense of urgency to address cardiovascular diseases on a European scale. This year, policymakers and key experts will seek to clear the minefield through the identification of solutions to incentivise collaboration at institutional and societal levels, such as a European heart health plan.
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Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in Europe – reason enough to act. Largely preventable, heart disease can be treated effectively if diagnosed early. All ages are affected but risks rise significantly for older people, a key challenge for an ageing Europe with huge inequalities in outcomes across the continent.
The new Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan shows what can be achieved when the policies, funds and research efforts are concentrated on reaching specific targets for health. Some national governments have put in place a strategy on cardiovascular diseases but we lack the coordination and scale that happens when Europe acts together. Efforts are needed on prevention and data collection, updated research and innovation regulations, early diagnosis and better care for patients. To address big societal challenges, the EU can mobilise many stakeholders by incentivising collaboration.
- Where can we make most gains in tackling cardiovascular disease in Europe?
- Can Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan be the blueprint for a whole-of-institution, whole of-society approach to health?
- What needs to be done to prepare for an EU action plan on cardiovascular diseases in 2023?
Corporate Vice-President of Europe, Middle East, Africa, Canada & Latin America at Edwards Lifesciences
President of the European Society of Cardiology, Chairman of the Department of Cardiology and Professor of Medicine at the University of Erlangen
Vice President of the European Heart Network and Secretary General of the Finnish Heart Association
Deputy Director-General at the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE)
MEP, member of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
MEP, co-chair of the MEP Heart Group
MEP, member of the European Parliament Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection
MEP, member of the MEP Heart Group
MEP, member of the European Parliament and former Lithuania health minister
Prior to assuming his current role at Edwards Lifesciences, the global leader in patient-focused medical innovations for structural heart disease, Jean-Luc Lemercier served as the vice president of transcatheter heart valves EMEA. Under his leadership, the company successfully launched the SAPIEN transcatheter heart valve technology and built its leadership position in Europe. Lemercier also serves as Chair of the Cardiovascular Sector Group of MedTech Europe, the association representing the medical technology industry in Europe.
As President of the European Society of Cardiology, Stephan Achenbach strives to ensure that the organisation continues to strengthen its global reputation and improve the standard of cardiovascular care. Prior to his current role, Achenbach held several positions within the organisation, including councillor, vice president, chairman of the congress programme committee and president-elect. A cardiologist by training, his research focuses on cardiac interventions and cardiac imaging with a focus on computed tomography of the heart. Achenbach was previously the founding president of the Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography.
As Vice President of the European Heart Network, Tuija Brax provides political and procedural direction on behalf of the organisation’s members. Additionally, Brax serves as Secretary General of the Finnish Heart Association, which financially supports not-for-profit organisations that promote heart and vascular health. She is the former Finnish minister of justice and served as a member of the Finnish parliament for 20 years. She has previously held a number of positions of trust, including chair of the advisory board of the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations in Finland and a member of the City Council of Helsinki.
Pierre Delsaux has gained significant experience in operational management, policy implementation and formulation throughout a long and remarkable career at the European Commission. A lawyer by training, he has held numerous senior positions within the Commission, mainly within the Directorate-General Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) and the former Directorate-General Internal Market and Services (DG MARKT). Prior to working at the Commission, Delsaux was a legal secretary at the European Court of Justice.
Brando Benifei is a Member of the European Parliament and Head of the Italian S&D MEP Delegation. Benifei is also the Co-Chair of the MEP Heart Group, where he works to raise cardiovascular diseases as a priority on the EU political agenda. A member of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO), he is rapporteur for the Single Market Programme and shadow rapporteur for the European Social Fund Plus. Benifei received the MEP Award for his work on employment, social affairs, and youth unemployment. Forbes included him in their 30 Under 30 Europe Policy Class of 2016.
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