Diseases of the heart, arteries and veins are on the rise in Barbados, defying attempts to slow the trend, a heart surgeon and activist in the country’s heart health charity has said.

Cardiologist Dr Dawn Scantlebury, first vice-president of the Heart & Stroke Foundation, made the disclosure to Barbados TODAY during the foundation’s Go Red for Women initiative on Friday.

The initiative, in which supporters wore red, is aligned with a 20-year-old campaign run by the American Heart Association, aimed at raising awareness of heart disease as the number one killer of women.

There had been no discernible drop in the levels of heart disease among Barbadian women, particularly considering a push for healthier lifestyles in recent years, said Dr Scantlebury, whose speciality in interventional cardiology involves performing heart and blood vessel procedures with a catheter.

“Unfortunately, I am not seeing any improvement. What I am actually seeing is an increase in cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease mortality because I am on the receiving end of our failures,” she said.

According to the Barbados National Registry (BNR) for Chronic Non-Communicable Disease which records cases of heart disease, strokes, and cancers, there were 547 heart attacks, with 285 among men and 262 among women in 2020, the most recent year where full data is available.

Pointing to those figures and recent anecdotal reports from healthcare professionals, Dr Scantlebury said it was clear that numbers associated with lifestyle diseases and other complications are on the rise.

“Looking at the fact that in the last 10 years they (BNR) have been collecting data on heart disease, there has been a progressive increase in heart attacks [and] there has been a progressive increase in strokes,” she said. “So, we have had increases, and then over COVID, we had a decline in how well these risk factors were being managed because the health system was taken up with managing COVID. So there [was] this loss of control of the hypertension, the diabetes, and all of that. So I have physically felt the burden of this increase of cardiovascular disease, just as my workload has increased significantly.”

While praising the government’s efforts to fight risk factors for heart disease, particularly the implementation of the National School Nutrition Policy in 2023 to prevent students from consuming unhealthy foods at school, the heart specialist said she is concerned that Barbadians have been living unhealthy lifestyles for some time, which requires more drastic measures to be taken.

“I know the government is pushing it on that end, but from my end what I will be seeing is the years and years of neglect of the NCDs. Once you get to a critical mass, it’s hard to turn back the time,” she said.

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