Malta’s life expectancy rate has gone up from an average of 78 years to more than 82 years. One of the main contributing factors of this positive result is the drastic decrease in deaths related to heart disease.
This information was provided by Dr Robert Xuereb, Clinical Chair of the Department of Cardiology at Mater Dei Hospital, as he was speaking at the Partit Laburista Conference on Sunday.
Dr Xuereb explained how the death rate from heart conditions in Malta was halved in recent years. “This is the result of new technology introduced in Malta, which is being used in various complex heart interventions,” he said.
“Another important development was the investment made in new imaging systems, such as the CT Coronary Angiogram, Stress Echocardiography and Cardiac MRI, which is the most detailed way to examine the human heart.”
Dr Robert Xuereb speaking during the event
Dr Xuereb noted that up until a few years ago, an average of 20 Maltese patients per year used to be sent to Monza in Italy to have a cardiac MRI. But thanks to new investment, today an average of 24 cardiac MRIs are performed every week at Mater Dei Hospital.
Today, an average of 24 cardiac MRIs are performed every week at Mater Dei Hospital.
Investment was not limited solely to equipment, but was also spread to human resources. This, he added, happened despite facing the biggest world crisis since World War II.
“I am proud of the Maltese health system, especially when foreign colleagues of mine describe how they had to stop major services due to the pressures brought by COVID-19. Unlike them, we continued to offer such services,” said Dr Xuereb.
He mentioned, among others, the TAVI heart procedure, by which interventions on heart valves are performed through the patient’s thigh.
“While in the past, we used to perform 8 TAVI interventions per year, in 2020, despite the pandemic, we performed 57 interventions.”
More expected in the coming months
Dr Xuereb said that despite these positive advances in recent years, it is important for government to continue to prioritise investment in the health system. He announced plans to add another operating theater dedicated to electrophysiology, which is used to diagnose abnormal heartbeats, as well as to permorm other complex interventions on heart valves.
Other upcoming projects include the introduction of robotics in heart procedures, which will ensure more precise interventions. This, together with the use of Artificial Intelligence and home monitoring which will enable staff to follow a patient’s situation continuously without the need for the said patient to go to Mater Dei Hospital.
Dr Xuereb called on the Government to expand the formulary to include innovative medicines related to heart conditions. These medicines are currently available in Malta but patients need to buy them themselves. He said that research shows that these drugs are cost-effective and if they are on the Government Formulary, the country ends up saving more money as pressure is eased from certain health services.
He also referred to the need for more emphasis on prevention. He proposed the introduction of government subsidies on healthy food or a tax on unhealthy products.
“We need to change our culture through a better diet, more exercise and less consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Doing this will ensure that Malta achieves good results not only in healthcare but also prevention,” he concluded.