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Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-WA, speaks during the House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing July 29 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Indian Americans and other South Asian Americans are four times as likely to develop heart disease when compared to the general population, and have a high risk of having a heart attack before the age of 50, said Jayapal in a press statement. (Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)

“We, at AAPI, express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to the U.S. Congress for unanimously passing the legislation, South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act of 2020, on Sept. 29, 2020,” Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalgadda, president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, said. “We urge the U.S. Senate to take up the bill without further delay, helping South Asians living in the United States to become aware of the risks they face daily due cardiac issues.”

Initiated by Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, H.R.3131 - South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act of 2020 was voted overwhelmingly by the full House of Representatives. The Act stipulates raising awareness on the alarming rate of heart disease in South Asian communities in the United States while investing in strategies to reverse the deadly trend.

“As the first South Asian-American woman ever elected to the House of Representatives, I am fully committed to not only raising awareness and educating the South Asian community about the risk factors for heart disease but also ensuring that those living with heart disease receive the care, treatment, resources and support they need,” said Jayapal, who represents Washington’s 7th Congressional district. “I am proud that this urgently necessary legislation passed (the) committee today and I won’t stop fighting until it becomes law,” she added.

The legislation directs the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary to create grants, such as South Asian Heart Health Promotion Grants at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to provide funding for community groups involved in South Asian heart health promotion and to develop culturally appropriate materials to promote heart health in the South Asian community.

The bill also asks the HHS Secretary to fund grants through the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on cardiovascular disease and other heart ailments among communities disproportionately affected by heart disease, such as South Asian populations living in the United States, and develop a clearinghouse and web portal of information on heart health research, such as South Asian heart health.

Dr. Brahma Sharma, a prominent cardiologist affiliated with VA University of Pittsburgh, and serving as the chair of AAPI-AHA Liaison committee on South Asian Heart Disease, said, “This is a historic day for South Asian community and we all appreciate the bipartisan efforts by Rep. Pramila Jaypal and Rep/ Joe Wilson (R- SC). It is gratifying to see this hidden threat for South Asians community finally being recognized. We have to continue this advocacy, so it passes through US Senate as well and provides the necessary support for education, research for early detection, prevention and even reversal of this epidemic of cardio-metabolic disease among South Asians who are at the highest risk.”

Indeed, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and the U.S. spends over $500 billion on cardiovascular disease each year. Studies have shown that immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are experiencing a dramatic rise in heart disease. South Asians make up 25 percent of the world's population but they contribute 50 percent to global cardiovascular deaths.

Prevalence of diabetes for the South Asian subgroup in the United States has been found to be an alarming 23.3%, an important research relevant to South Asian cardiometabolic disease, said Cheng YJ, Kanaya AM et al, in a study entitled, “Prevalence of Diabetes by Race and Ethnicity in the United States, 2011-2016,” published in JAMA in December 2019. These valuable data demonstrate the incredibly high, vastly under-appreciated burden of diabetes among South Asians. Particularly distressing is how many South Asians have diabetes without even knowing it. This phenomenon is surely fueling the cardiovascular epidemic among South Asians.

Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, president-elect of AAPI, said, “The vital findings of the JAMA paper and the need for creating awareness about the prevalence of diabetes, the symptoms, efforts to prevent and effective treatment are very critical today. The passing of the crucial bill by the U.S. Congress recognizes the need for additional resources to be made available for creating awareness, offering preventive measures and treatment to our community, and continuing with the research on this vital healthcare area.”


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