Heart disease deaths among world's highest


Ireland continues to have one of the highest heart disease mortality rates in the developed world, according to new research.

An international study of coronary heart disease rates in 30 countries ranked the Republic fourth-highest, immediately followed by Northern Ireland. The research, by the British Office of Health Economics (OHE), found that only Hungary, the Czech Republic and Scotland had higher coronary heart disease mortality rates.

The OHE compiled World Health Organisation statistics to provide the international comparison of deaths for people aged between 45 and 64.

The Republic's ranking was based on 1993 figures, which showed 310 deaths per 100,000 for males and 82 per 100,000 for females. Northern Ireland was ranked using 1995 figures of 294 male deaths and 96 female.

At the top of the scale, Hungary had 412 male deaths and 128 female. The lowest heart mortality rates were in South Korea, which had 36 male and 11 female deaths.

The tables are published in the OHE's Compendium of Health Statistics. An OHE statistician for health economics, Mr Peter Yuen, said they clearly indicated the impact of diet and lifestyle on coronary heart disease rates. The 4664 age group specifically targeted those who had died prematurely as a result of the disease.

"It is a fact that we have the highest incidence of premature deaths in under-65s as a result of heart disease in the EU," the Irish Heart Foundation chief executive, Mr Paddy Murphy, said.

While the situation had improved slightly since 1993, it was still very unsatisfactory, he said, and the rate of coronary deaths was not declining as quickly as it was in other developed countries.

Coronary heart disease accounted for 43 per cent of deaths in Ireland in 1997 and continues to be the most common cause of death for Irishmen under 65. The rate in Ireland was 87 per 100,000 population, compared to an EU average of 47 per 100,000. At 65 years, Ireland has the lowest life expectancy in the EU.

Heart disease was a multifaceted problem, he explained. The top four contributors to the disease were high blood pressure, smoking, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.

A Department of Health spokesman said the current levels of coronary heart disease were unacceptable. The Government had launched its National Cardiovascular Health Strategy last month in an attempt to unite both preventive and treatment resources. The strategy will cost £150 million and significant funding will be provided by the tax on cigarettes and/or a levy on tobacco firms.

Mr Murphy said the Irish Heart Foundation would seek funding under the health strategy in order to increase its work in providing preventive information. A number of its programmes, such as Sli na Slainte and the Happy Heart Week, had not only been successful in Ireland but had also been adopted in other countries, Mr Murphy said.