Dáil Éireann - Volume 425 - 10 February, 1993

Written Answers. - Heart Disease.

439. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the situation where a survey of 12 countries reveals Ireland second from the top in the number of premature deaths from ischaemic heart disease affecting men between the age of 50 and 54; and the steps, if any, he intends to take to deal with this serious health problem.

Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin): I am aware of the study to which the Deputy refers and the findings are, indeed, a cause for concern. Ireland has had a relatively slow response rate to the international trends in the improvement in rates of premature death from heart disease but, nevertheless, there are now some encouraging and positive indications as far as this country is concerned. There have been decreases in the number of deaths from coronary heart disease in the 30-69 age group in both males and females during the 1980s of around 20 per cent. While such reductions are welcome they are clearly no basis for complacency [1034] and my Department has a number of initiatives in place, and others planned, to maintain and accelerate the momentum in this area.

My Department's Health Promotion Unit has initiated a major consultative exercise with the objective of agreeing a National Health Promotion Strategy which would be acceptable to and can be implemented by each of the eight health boards. This strategy will seek to develop goals and targets for health promotion and to develop an agenda for national planning from which national priorities will emerge. In this context it will be fully acknowledged that heart disease is the major cause of morbidity and premature mortality in Ireland and as such will be afforded the highest priority. Last December, the Kilkenny Health Project, a major community-based research and demonstration pilot project funded by my Department and aimed at reducing the risk factors for ischaemic heart disease, submitted their report. In finalising our National Strategy, full consideration will be given to the lessons learned from the Kilkenny Health Project.

Parallel to the development of an effective intervention programme, it is necessary to have in place a research function which can give direction to the intervention and effectively evaluate the level of success. In this context, my Department is currently seeking applications for a research project at national level which will monitor and analyse existing data on cardiovascular disease and in particular will analyse data on the intervention strategies most likely to be successful in preventing it.

Effective intervention strategies generally require the co-ordinated efforts of relevant agencies both in the voluntary and statutory sector. In this regard my Department has been supporting the Happy Heart initiative of the Irish Heart Foundation.

In addition to these projects which are addressed specifically at preventing heart disease many other initiatives of my Department's Health Promotion Unit address individual risk factors for heart disease e.g. smoking, diet and exercise.