The prevalence of atrial fibrillation (AF) is on the rise. It is currently estimated that approximately 5 million Americans are affected by this condition, and it is expected to become threefold by the year 2050. The risk of stroke is five times more likely with AF, and is the most feared complication of AF. Fortunately there are several different treatment options for AF and the risk of stroke can be mitigated by oral anticoagulation. However, awareness about AF in the community has been below par. Due to lack of awareness about symptoms, patients often present late in their disease process or with stroke. Patient compliance with oral anticoagulation is also poor — it is estimated that nearly 38% of patients discontinue this medication after starting it for one reason or the other. In the last decade there have been tremendous advancements in the treatment of AF, with the launch of new ablation technologies that can cure AF as well as newer oral anticoagulant agents that do not need additional testing and have fewer interactions with food or other drugs. Therefore, with excellent treatment options available, it is important to spread this knowledge in the community in a non-biased fashion.
To fulfill this objective, Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, Professor of Medicine at The University of Kansas Hospital, and his distinguished counterpart electrophysiologists from renowned medical centers across the world, have formed the Global Atrial Fibrillation Alliance (GAFA) Foundation. Dr. Lakkireddy is the founding chairman of the GAFA; the board of trustees includes Dr. Hugh Calkins, Dr. Shih-Ann Chen, Dr. Gerhard Hindricks, Dr. Francis Marchlinski, Dr. Calambur Narasimhan, Dr. Ali Oto, Dr. Andrea Natale, Dr. Vivek Reddy and Dr. Sanjeev Saksena. GAFA is a not-for-profit organization and currently has its roots in 10 countries, including the United States. This organization brings together physicians, patients, hospitals and industry partners with the objectives of improving access to AF care, launching AF and stroke awareness programs, prevention and treatment of rheumatic AF in developing countries and supporting investigator-initiated research in AF. (Figure 1)
The United States Congress has also recognized the growing burden of AF. In 2009, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to designate the month of September as National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. Every second Saturday of September is commemorated as Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Day, and various events are organized to increase the awareness on AF amongst community members. The GAFA council has utilized this opportunity to fulfill the objectives of their foundation, organizing yoga sessions and 5K runs in 20 different cities across the world. This year was the second annual 5K run, following the successful inaugural run in 2012. The event was held on September 14, 2013 in Kansas City, Kansas, and was a huge success. More than 300 participants joined Dr. Lakkireddy and his team for the 30-minute yoga session as well as the 5K run. Mayor Peggy Dunn from the city of Leawood also attended the event. (Figures 2-4)
The GAFA Foundation also chose this opportunity to honor the various individuals and organizations whose efforts have helped define the treatment and awareness of AF. Dr. James Cox was honored with the Physician Ambassador of the Year award. Dr. Cox is a pioneering heart surgeon and visionary who first developed the surgical treatment for AF. Dr. Cox has dedicated his life for finding a cure for AF, and was the first surgeon to successfully demonstrate that AF can be cured by means of surgery in 1987. This surgery is known as the Cox-Maze procedure, and is the basis of modern-day, sophisticated catheter ablation and minimally invasive maze procedures. This award was a fitting tribute to a physician and researcher who has been an inspiring figure in the world of AF and who discovered a cure for a problem that was largely incurable before the introduction of his procedure. (Figure 5)
All successful health campaigns have hinged on participation from the community and patients as well. For example, Mellanie True Hills, an AF patient herself, founded the StopAfib.org website, which provides patients with information and resources on the latest advancements in the treatment of AF. She has been a true champion for the cause of patients in the fight against AF. For her immense contribution to the society, the GAFA council chose her as the GAFA Patient Ambassador of the Year.
In addition, the University of Kansas Hospital was selected as the GAFA Hospital Ambassador of the Year. The University of Kansas Hospital offers advanced treatments for AF through its Center of Excellence in Atrial Fibrillation and Complex Arrhythmia at the Bloch Heart Rhythm Center. They have introduced several advanced technologies for the treatment of AF, and through their research, continue to deliver extraordinary and pioneering care to thousands of patients with AF living in this area. For this reason, they have been rightly chosen for this award. (Figure 6)
The GAFA council also chose to honor the industry members who form a vital cog in the fight against AF. Members of the industry continue to pioneer cutting-edge design and technology to match the needs of the physicians and patients to treat AF. Their contributions, research and leadership have resulted in novel treatment strategies in the treatment of AF. Therefore, the GAFA council chose to honor St. Jude Medical, Biosense Webster, Medtronic and Boston Scientific with the GAFA Industry Ambassadors of the Year Awards.
At the event, Dr. Lakkireddy equated AF to coronary artery disease, and reminded everyone of the conscientious efforts of various organizations to increase public awareness on coronary artery disease and breast cancer. He also stressed how difficult and painstaking it can be to launch public awareness campaigns, and therefore urged all the stakeholders to play their respective roles constructively in raising awareness on AF. He also lauded the efforts of the Heart Rhythm Society, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology in championing for this cause.
The world AF Awareness Day was also celebrated in other cities around the world, featuring educational activities and runs in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Phoenix, Arizona; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Taipei, Taiwan; and Hyderabad, India. For instance, Dr. David Sandler and his team organized an AF awareness lecture and yoga session in Tulsa, and Dr. Vijay Swarup and colleagues did an AF run in Phoenix. (Figures 7 and 8)
It is a commendable and praiseworthy job to organize AF awareness campaigns on a global scale. The growing success of this campaign is indicated by the fact that this program has expanded to 20 cities from just two cities last year. We sincerely hope that this chain reaction continues, and that we can bring about AF awareness around the world, especially in the developing countries. Let’s stop atrial fibrillation!
Disclosures: The authors report no conflicts of interest regarding the content herein.