LAHORE - Like the previous years, World Heart Day Saturday went almost unnoticed.

WHD-related events in Lahore were limited to two walks, one on the last day and the second one on Thursday, both arranged by private medical institutions. This year, global campaign focused on looking after own hearts, and the hearts of loved ones.

Indifferent attitude of institutions in public sector showed priority of the government in dealing with the cardiovascular diseases, leading cause of death in Pakistan.

Timely diagnostic and treatment facilities for CVDs in public sector are dream for the poor while such facilities at private institutions are highly expensive.

Facilities offered at big hospitals like Mayo, Jinnah, Services, Ganga Ram and Sheikh Zayed are not absolutely free.

Patients have to wait for one year for tests like angiography and more than two years for free surgery at Punjab Institute of Cardiology, leading cardiac institution in the province. Patients will have to go to private hospitals for necessary tests and surgery. Those who could not afford have no other option except to die while waiting for one or two long years.

Leading cardiologists lamented at the indifferent attitude of the government toward such a big issue, saying large scale awareness could help saving precious human lives.

To decrease the mammoth burden of heart disease in Pakistan, there is a dire need to create more awareness and understanding among the general public on primary prevention of heart related issues,” said Dr Azhar Awan, adding, physical inactivity, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, unhealthy diet, smoking and alcohol consumptions were major risk factor.

Government should launch massive public awareness campaign regarding preventive measures as CVDs have already reached epidemic proportions,” said Dr Amer Bandesha, senior cardiologist working at PIC.

“As per estimates, at least eight per cent of the population is suffering from CVDs. If prevailing conditions persist, population with CVDs will reach 30 per cent after 10 years. Risk factors for heart disease and stroke include high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, smoking, inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables, frequent use of already cooked food, obesity and sedentary lifestyle”, he said.

“Cooking style in Pakistan is also increasing population with CVDs. Excessive heating for a prolonged period not only reduce quality of food but also make it harmful for heart. Storage of cooked food in freezers and its reheating for use is harmful. Once cooking oil is cooled after reaching its boiling point, reheating produces saturated fat and free radicals. This causes formation of new clots and thickening of existing ones,” he said, adding, habit of taking meals from restaurants and reuse of already cooked food coupled with sedentary lifestyle has caused alarming increase in the incidents of heart attacks among youth. “There is need for adopting healthy lifestyle, avoiding drug abuse, taking freshly cooked food, adequate use of cereals, nuts, fruits, vegetables and regular exercise to avoid CVDs. People having family history of mature heart disease should take extra care besides regular screening,” he said.

“In the absence of regular screening, majority of the people reach hospitals after developing complications. At this stage, life of patient is at greater risk and treatment is also costly,” Dr Bandesha said.

“There is need for managing cardiovascular risk factors which contributes significantly to the disease burden in Pakistan. CVDs are a serious threat to Pakistan and a better management of risk factors can positively impact the mortality rate. There is need of taking extra care of kids. Even their sore throats should not be taken lightly. If not treated timely and properly, sore throat can release bacteria that attack valves of heart,” he said.

“Adopting healthy lifestyle, periodic check up of blood pressure, screening for cholesterol, lipid profile and diabetes every year after reaching 20th birthday is need of the hour”, he said.

“People should take precautionary measures and make periodic screening a habit. Person getting heart attack once will always remain a cardiac patient. He should be owned by the state and provided regular diagnostic and treatment facilities. PIC is the biggest heart care cantre in the country. As the government has not established more need based centres, patient load at PIC has increased three times in last 10 years”, he said

In major cities like Lahore, cardiac centres at teaching hospitals should be made functional. Proper cardiac centres should be established at DHQ/THQ hospitals for easing burden on tertiary care hospitals and providing treatment to heart patients in the close vicinity of their homes, Dr Bandesha said.