A professor and neurologist at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) is spearheading an international effort to reduce the burden of stroke in Latin America, where the disease is a leading cause of death and disability.
“More than 200,000 people die annually from stroke in Latin America — but most strokes can be prevented,” says Salvador Cruz-Flores, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the Department of Neurology. “I am committed to reducing this excessive number of strokes in Latin America, by whatever means possible.”
Stroke is the number one cause of death in Chile and the second-leading killer in most Latin American countries, including Brazil and Argentina. Mexico and Colombia don’t fall far behind; stroke is the third cause of death in both countries.
To combat this health disparity, the American Heart Association (AHA) initiated the Latin America Summit (LATAM), chaired by Dr. Cruz-Flores, to reduce Latin America’s mortality from stroke by 25 percent by 2025.
The LATAM first convened in Santiago, Chile in 2015. Under Dr. Cruz-Flores’ lead, the summit resulted in an official call to action for Latin America that’s reflected in the document The Declaration of Santiago de Chile. Drafted by Dr. Cruz-Flores, the declaration provides a roadmap for each country in Latin America, highlighting key strategies and interventions required to prevent and treat stroke. The declaration acknowledges the burden stroke represents in Latin America and calls for improved recognition, prevention and treatment of these “brain attacks.”
Dr. Cruz-Flores and his colleagues at the AHA have shared the declaration with some of Chile’s most important public health figures and organizations. Because of their work, the declaration has been signed by multiple entities, including Ignacio Gutierrez, Chile’s Minister of Health; Rodrigo Restrepo Gonzalez, Chile’s Minister of Health and Social Protection; the University of Chile; Valparaiso University; the Brazilian Academy of Neurology; and Chile’s School of Public Health; as well as representatives from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru — all of whom equally committed to the fight.
“The signing of this declaration signals the commitment of participating Latin American countries to take steps to drive policy and health care initiatives that decrease morbidity and mortality from stroke,” Dr. Cruz-Flores explains.
Since the declaration was issued, Dr. Cruz-Flores has hosted regular teleconferences and follow-up meetings with key players in the effort.
Progress against stroke in Latin America has been slow, but meaningful, he says.
Together, organizers have come to recognize the disparities in Latin America that cause such high stroke mortality rates. This includes limited access to stroke care, hospitals that are inadequately certified to treat stroke victims, inadequate funding for stroke education and research, and poor awareness of stroke and its symptoms among the public.
These gaps have identified priorities for the AHA LATAM team to address. Over the next year, LATAM will pursue the following goals: 1) encourage countries’ national plans to acknowledge stroke, specifically ensuring stroke care and appropriate stroke access; 2) support low-cost prevention and acute treatment options; and 3) facilitate universal access to stroke care and essential services and medications.
“I’m looking forward to helping these countries improve their stroke mortality and morbidity rates,” says Dr. Cruz-Flores. “These needless deaths in Latin America can and should be addressed to save more lives and prevent disability.”
Dr. Cruz-Flores presented an update on the AHA Latin America stroke initiative earlier this month at the AHA’s 2017 International Stroke Conference in Houston.