Daiichi Sankyo Europe Company, Limited (hereafter, Daiichi Sankyo Europe) has today announced findings from a new report that confirms people who have tested positive for COVID-19 face higher risks of multiple forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Additional findings show the health burden of CVD is expected to grow due to the long-term implications of COVID-19, highlighting the need to prioritize care for the CVD patient community across European healthcare systems.
The editorially independent report, published by Economist Impact and sponsored by Daiichi Sankyo Europe, reviewed evidence available to uncover the impact that COVID-19 has had on existing CVD patients, the delivery of cardiovascular care and the implications of ‘long COVID’ for healthcare systems in the future. With a focus on Western European regions – in particular France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – the key findings of the report build on the available evidence and discussions with experts in cardiology, neurology and public health to identify areas where improvements could be made to address the growing needs of the CVD community.
In 2020, more than 60 million people were living with CVD in the European Union, and close to 13 million new cases were diagnosed that year. The prevalence of underlying lifestyle risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, low physical activity, obesity and diabetes, has escalated over recent decades. The risk of developing CVD also increases with age, and as Europe’s population continues to get older, with 155 million Europeans predicted to be over 65 by 2040, the incidence of CVD is set to increase dramatically. This is likely to be further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the link between infection and the development of CVD, and yet 80% of premature heart disease and strokes are preventable, demonstrating an urgent need to address this healthcare crisis.
The impact of the virus on CVD-related risks
In addition to the rising prevalence of CVD risk factors, the Economist Impact report confirms that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are at even greater risk of experiencing CVD and related health events such as heart failure, myocardial infarction, stroke, and arrhythmia.
The Economist Impact report also suggests that there has been substantial under-reporting of deaths due to COVID-19 globally. By January 2022 it was approximated that there were 18.8 million more lives lost during the pandemic than would be expected, higher than the 5.44 million deaths attributed directly to COVID-19 by December 2021. These additional deaths will include those directly due to un-detected COVID, but also deaths due to other causes, where the conditions responsible were exacerbated or caused by COVID itself or by the difficulties in accessing care during the pandemic. Such conditions are likely to include CVD.
The Implications of the Pandemic Response for the CVD Community
The report also uncovers the indirect implications of COVID-19 on healthcare systems and CVD care. The limited capacity of overworked health systems, combined with patient fear of exposure to the virus, has meant that cardiovascular care has been reduced at every level, in turn increasing mortality in the short-term as well as driving longer-term risk.
According to findings, this phenomenon has continued over the medium-term; nearly a year after the pandemic began, the World Health Organization still reported widespread disruption in blood-pressure management and emergency cardiovascular treatment. The research conducted by Economist Impact found that this disruption has taken varying forms at different levels of care: from the unavoidable lack of emergency services and risk factor management to delays in CVD diagnosis.
The Knock-On Effects of ‘long COVID’
‘Long COVID’ describes the still poorly understood, but seemingly common, consequence of COVID-19 infection. Research suggests that common manifestations of long COVID, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, are associated with greater risk of CVD events including heart failure and heart attack. Commenting on the report, Dr Amitava Banerjee, Consultant Cardiologist and Professor of Clinical Data Science at University College London, explained “We are only scratching the surface when it comes to the long-term impact of COVID-19 on CVD, with more data likely to emerge over time.”
The report findings further indicate that the challenges arising from long COVID could increase CVD burden in both the short- and medium-term, calling for preventative strategies to be implemented to align with an evolving healthcare landscape. Dr Banerjee concluded, “As clinicians we are seeing people present at much more advanced stages of CVD, meaning that their care is much more challenging and favorable outcomes are less likely. To prevent fatal events and improve outcomes for patients, we must place a greater focus on identifying risk factors and detecting CVD symptoms early. Through doing this we can also alleviate the strain on already burdened healthcare systems.”
The Pressing Urgency to Refocus Efforts on CVD
While the acute pandemic crisis demanded immediate attention and resources, the Economist Impact report demonstrates the pressing urgency for healthcare systems to refocus efforts on addressing the unmet needs of CVD as Europe’s leading cause of death. A renewed focus on prevention, symptom detection and identification of risk factors could reduce implications of future CVD burden.
Commenting on the report, Oliver Appelhans, Head Commercial Operations, Head Affiliate & Partner Management Specialty Medicines, Daiichi Sankyo Europe explained, “Now, more than ever, we must address the enormous impact of CVD in Europe and how it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He continued, “As an industry we have an important role to play in addressing the needs of the medical community and help protect people from CVD. At Daiichi Sankyo Europe, we remain committed to working closely with the healthcare community and industry partners to support better care - placing prevention at the center of our efforts.”