On the second day of the Virgin Islands Cardiac Symposium, there were presentations about cardiovascular disease in the territory along with other heart related topics.
The three-day conference for health care professionals and the public began Thursday and ends Saturday at noon. Speakers include medical experts from the Bahamas, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Miami and the Virgin Islands.
On Friday, Dr. Esther Ellis, St. Croix territorial epidemiologist, and Dr. Eugene Tull, executive director of the Inter-American center for Public Health Improvement Inc., talked about heart disease statistics in the Virgin Islands.
Tull explained that public health means caring for the population not a physician treating an individual patient. The goal is to prevent the community from contracting illness and disease.
“The focus of public health is to drive the rate of disease down,” he said.
The process begins with identifying at-risk individuals and how to protect the community and then the cause of the disease needs to be eliminated and the eradication procedures evaluated. To prevent disease from spreading, Tull said the community needs to be educated and screened or immunized, as needed, and potential hazards have to be controlled. Finally those who fall ill are treated and rehabilitated.
In the case of heart disease in the Virgin Islands, Tull listed risk factors and said a small percentage of the population is genetically at risk. High body mass index, waistline measurement, obesity and diabetes “exacerbate” the possibility of developing cardiac disease. Hispanics have three times a greater risk for some reason, he said. Smoking tobacco is a high risk factor in many populations, but not in the Virgin Islands, Tull said.
According to Tull, anyone with one or more risk factor should be screened and monitored regularly.
“Cardiovascular disease will always be the No. 1 killer. Early onset of heart disease in the Virgin Islands is low and will remain low if we monitor folks who are high risk,” he said.
Ellis, who compiles and reports research on diseases for the V.I. Health Department, said data is obtained from lab tests, police and medical records, environmental monitoring, surveys and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Data from 2008-2012 indicates the death rate in the territory from circulatory diseases has declined. Smoking among Virgin Islanders decreased from 2001 to 2010 but diabetes increased during that period, Ellis said.
The Health Department statistics can be used to recommend ways to prevent heart disease by living a healthy lifestyle, lowering systolic blood pressure and reducing obesity.
The CDC mandates certain diseases be reported and this year Ebola and chickungunya were added to the list. According to the statistics, there have been no new cases of chickungunya in two months on St. Thomas and cases on St. Croix are down to five a week instead of 200, Ellis said. More information can be found on the Health Department website.
The keynote speaker Thursday was Dr. Henry Steward, president of the Caribbean Cardiology Society from Curacao and Friday, Dr. Conville Brown, founder of the Bahamas Heart Center and Associates talked about partnered health care. Saturday’s guest speaker will be Jose Luis Rodriguez, chief executive officer at Pavia Santurce Hospital in San Juan.
So far, seminar topics have included obesity, angioplasty and sudden cardiac death. On Saturday, Dr. Rolando Colon, from Pavia Hospital, will speak on valve surgery, and Dr. Jorge Negron, also from Pavia Hospital, will talk about cervical cancer.
“This is how we get better — by the exchange of knowledge,” Dr. Kendall Griffith, JFL chief executive officer, said Friday.