The other silent pandemic

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Added: Wed, 06/02/2021 - 4:08pm
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Allyson Beauregard
Rédacteur / Managing Editor
editor@journalpontiac.com

Seventeen months after the first COVID outbreak was declared in China and 15 months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic
(March 11, 2020), restrictions are easing as vaccination ramps up.  
According to WHO, a pandemic is “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”
Globally, as of May 30, there was 169,597,415 cases of COVID, including 3,530,583 deaths. As a result, we’ve endured over a year of restrictions on what we can do, where we can go, who we can see, and in Québec, what times we can leave our homes, all  to limit transmission and save lives— absolutely understandable. 
However, a new analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine says COVID has actually caused double the number of deaths—about 6.9 million—because COVID deaths are significantly underreported in many countries (some only report deaths in hospitals, have weak reporting systems, low access to healthcare, etc.).
Yet, without downplaying the seriousness of COVID and its devastating effects, it isn’t the biggest threat to human life. We’ve been facing a more deadly pandemic—affecting every corner of the globe and killing millions annually—for over a decade, but we hear very little about it.
The world’s biggest killer is heart disease, responsible for 16% of total deaths. According to WHO, since 2000, it has seen the biggest increase in deaths, jumping from about 2 million in 2000 to 8.9 million in 2019. That’s triple the COVID deaths WHO reported (in a 15 month span rather than a year) and about 50% more than estimates accounting for underreporting.
The kicker: the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada estimates almost 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable through healthy behaviours
and 90% of Canadians have at least one risk factor: drug and alcohol use, unhealthy weight, physical inactivity, smoking, stress, and unhealthy diets.
So why hasn’t a ‘pandemic’ been declared for preventable heart disease resulting in national action and mass concern of the population? We’ve seen school cafeteria menus altered here and there, warning labels on cigarettes, a few campaigns focused on ‘healthy’ living, and tax credits to encourage people to get active, among a handful of other things, but nothing in comparison to the COVID response. Why?
Are we oblivious to the actual numbers?
Is it because major contributors to the problem—cigarettes, fast and processed foods, alcohol, etc.—are multi-billion dollar industries that in some cases are designed to make lives easier? Or is it because tackling or ‘curing’ the problem requires a lot more effort than lining up to get a vaccine?
Regardless of the ‘why’, it’s the ‘how’ and ‘what’ that matters moving forward; what to do about it and how to do it. It’s time we get “all in this together” on this problem, and like the COVID pandemic, it’s a doozy!