Heart attack and blood vessel diseases, including high blood pressure and stroke, know no boundaries.
In almost all countries of the Americas, these diseases are the number one cause of death. The highest mortality rates for all cardiovascular diseases are found in the English-speaking Caribbean, the USA, Canada, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Death rates from cardiovascular diseases are on the rise in Central American and Latin Caribbean regions.
More people are using tobacco. Diets have more fat. And physical work is being replaced by labor-saving devices – leading to sedentary lifestyles and weight gain. The combination of bad lifestyle habits and urbanization, over time, leads to high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and the premature development of atherosclerosis.
The result can be heart attack, heart failure, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and other vascular problems. Medical treatment requires huge expenditures for medical and hospital care, depleting economic resources at all levels of the countries of the Americas.
For many years in the Americas, these disease problems were under-recognized. But in 1948, the American Heart Association became a volunteer-led organization united in the coordinated fight against heart and blood vessel diseases. That same year the National Heart Institute (now the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) was formed to coordinate federally-sponsored biomedical research into heart and blood vessel diseases in the U.S. In Canada in 1955, the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada was formed to address the problem in that country.
The InterAmerican Heart Program was created in September 1992 under the auspice of the World Heart Federation with the support of the American Heart Association, the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Interamerican Society of Cardiology, and heart foundations and societies throughout the American continents.
On April 17, 1994, in Mexico City, 21 participants representing 12 countries in the Americas signed a Statement of Intent to become members of the organization they named "InterAmerican Heart Foundation whose mission was to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke in the Americas." Since then, 36 heart foundations have ratified their membership, and the numbers are growing. These organizations are committed to working together toward a unified mission.
Stepping Forward For Prevention
In Berlin, Germany, on September 9, 1994, the World Heart Federation approved the InterAmerican Heart Foundation as the official intercontinental foundation for the Americas with the focus on promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.
Community action and population strategies have been developed to promote healthy eating habits, living tobacco-free, regular physical activity, and a positive psycho-social environment. These strategies are intended to control conditions that are precursors of heart disease and stroke, i.e., hypertension, dislipidemias, obesity, and diabetes.
Programs are aimed at improving risk factor profiles of the population by supporting positive changes in lifestyle and control of the conditions mentioned.
In Atlanta in August 2001, the IAHF joined with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and The World Bank to help unify efforts in the area of non-communicable disease surveillance in Latin America and the Caribbean so that we may have a strong basis for interventions and to evaluate their long term success.
In June 2002, the IAHF became an organization in official relations with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) opening the way to greater collaboration between government and non-government sectors in the fight against heart disease and stroke.
The InterAmerican Heart Foundation is unique in that it is the only federation of heart associations and foundations on our American continents. While there are a number of Inter-american medical societies, there are no other organizations with a population focus that are open to non-medical as well as medical approaches.
Working for Heart Health
For these many reasons, the InterAmerican Heart Foundation was formed in 1992 with three primary goals:
The fight against cardiovascular disease and stroke is just beginning in many of these countries of the Americas, and there is still much to do in all nations of the Western Hemisphere.
Programs and Goals
For many years, the world's top scientists and health professionals have met and reviewed all the available evidence regarding heart disease and stroke and concluded that we know enough to act now and prevent much of it. They organized their recommendations in various Declarations beginning in 1992. The IAHF has taken these recommendations to be the basis of its own programs. In just a few years, IAHF and its member organizations have begun to translate these recommendations into programs that: