Reflection on Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week

A Message from Wil Woan, Chair of the Heart Valve Disease Patient Council

During Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week, we on the Council sought to raise the profile and awareness of heart valve disease around the world. Throughout the week, we were encouraging over 65s around the world to ask their clinician for a stethoscope check, the first and most important step to the timely detection and diagnosis of heart valve disease.

It’s estimated that across the globe, over 30 million people live with heart valve disease – so this isn’t a disease we can ignore. Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week highlighted that heart valve disease is a common, serious, but a treatable condition, and during the week we wanted to cherish life, cherish family and cherish our older people and their contribution to our countries.

COVID-19 presented our Patient Council with a huge challenge, as restrictions were placed on what we could do, while simultaneously impacting valve disease patients in a way that meant they needed us more than ever. It meant we had to be more creative than ever, and the ingenuity and creativity of the campaigns I saw from our partners on the Council was truly inspiriting. Across 17 countries and in 7 different languages, there was incredible work.

In particular, AEPOVAC, in Spain, put together a brilliant Facebook and Instagram campaign, with influencers from across the country putting heart valve disease at the centre of the conversation, and reaching nearly 3 million people – a brilliant effort on two key platforms.  In Ireland, Croí, took to every digital platform at their disposal, celebrating the contribution of over 65s to their community in Ireland, and raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of the condition. In the UK, Heart Valve Voice held our first ever Virtual Patient Day #HVV2020, which brought together leading clinicians, patients and policymakers to inform, educate and inspire anyone affected by heart valve disease.

The range of messages and approaches delivered during the week connect our campaign with multiple audiences and across multiple generations. This variety is critical to better awareness, as recognising the signs and symptoms of heart valve disease is our collective responsibility, and many of the patients we talk to say they first had their symptoms noticed by a friend or a loved on. We need to think critically about our behaviour changes, but crucially about the behaviours of our friends and loved ones too.

These campaigns have no doubt raised the profile of heart valve disease enormously. However, Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week does so much more than raise awareness. Through our collective effort, we can affect policy change at a national level, improving the structures which deliver valve disease treatment across the world. The week also allows us to influence key opinion leaders and facilitates collaboration between our Patient Organisations and policymakers. It is at this level that our work begins to change the cardiovascular landscape, and we can deliver better detection, more treatment and improve access to innovative therapies around the world.

Now, our Patient Council needs to build on this success. Our core message of #ListenToYourHeart needs to grow and grow. This simple message has been so impactful, and it is the first and most crucial step to timely diagnosis and treatment of heart valve disease. We need to use this message and the collaborations we have made during the week to affect policy change and deliver mandatory stethoscope checks for over 60s across the world.

In these challenging time’s our work is more important than ever, and therefore we should be proud to have cumulatively got our message to over 47 million people around the world. Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week is the cornerstone of our year, and this year our collective efforts made it the biggest and best Awareness Week on record. Well done to everyone involved with Global Heart Hub for their efforts this year, and thank you to every single person around the world who contributed this year.