With an Ambitious Goal of Saving 100 Million Lives, Sex Matters

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If there is anyone who knows how to make a difference, it’s former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Tom Frieden. He has tackled some of the most critical health issues of our time from fighting the H1N1 flu pandemic to directing an anti-tobacco initiative in New York City to working to reduce cardiovascular disease at home and abroad. Dr. Frieden continues to lead the way on how we think and how we act when confronted with health challenges. His new endeavor, Resolve, will allow him to think big and tackle problems even bigger.

And now more than ever, we need Dr. Frieden’s voice and tenacity.

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women – killing more women than all cancers, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In the U.S., nearly one in three women die from heart disease and the increases in younger women, ages 29 to 44 are alarming. Globally, an estimated 17.7 million died from cardiovascular disease in 2015 – one-third of all annual deaths.

Nearly every 80 seconds a woman dies of heart disease and stroke in the U.S. – yet, almost 80 percent of deaths can be prevented by addressing behavioral as well as hypertension risk factors including obesity, smoking, lack of exercise and harmful use of alcohol. At the Women’s Heart Alliance (WHA) one of our major campaigns is to empower women to take heart health into their own hands. We believe all women should get heart checked and know their risk.

Yet we also know that getting heart checked and knowing heart disease risk don’t entirely do the trick. The fact is that when it comes to heart disease – sex matters.

Women’s hearts are under-researched, under-diagnosed and under-treated. Women’s hearts are smaller. Their risk factors, symptoms and response to therapies can be different. And, too often, health professionals aren’t aware of the differences – and too many women aren’t aware either. WHA’s 2014 survey found that only 22% of primary care providers and 42% of cardiologists felt extremely well prepared to assess cardiovascular risk in women. And only 54% of women knew their risks.

We frequently get asked why there is more attention being paid to men and heart disease. Part of it is simply a lack of awareness that heart disease is the number one killer of men AND women. People think about heart disease as only a man's disease. That lack of knowledge is one of the reasons why our country has not witnessed a movement galvanized around this epidemic. A movement that WHA stands ready to spark by raising awareness and encouraging action. Too many mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and other loved ones are needlessly facing and dying from cardiovascular disease.

That’s why we feel so incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Frieden’s voice fighting for heart health. His leadership and commitment can help mobilize actors at every level of society around the world – from individuals to community leaders to health care providers and more.

While creating a global movement is critical to driving down the number of people who are impacted by heart disease, we must also remember that much of the work is community-based. WHA’s signature effort, Cities and Communities with Heart Initiative (CCHI), does just that. Launched in Nashville, this innovative, multi-year, multi-sector program’s premise is that cardiovascular disease mortality and morbidity can be reduced. How? By cities and communities engaging multiple and diverse stakeholders to carefully assess the problem and identifying and applying feasible solutions across multiple levels of the health system. We have brought together 25 local partners in this collective impact initiative to improve heart health outcomes and hope to replicate CCHI in other cities with a high burden of heart disease in the coming years.

In announcing his new endeavor, Dr. Frieden noted that the world is at a tipping point when it comes to reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke. We couldn’t agree more. We know how to prevent this deadliest of diseases. Yet, as Dr. Frieden has said, “the world is somewhere between stalled and making very slow progress.” Together, we must push the accelerator and reduce cardiovascular deaths in men AND women.

Follow Women’s Heart Alliance on Twitter and visit www.womensheartalliance.org

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