New initiative aimed at reducing the excessively high rates of stroke

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has announced approximately $2 million in grant awards to support a new initiative aimed at reducing the excessively high rates of stroke, stroke disabilities and stroke deaths that disproportionately occur in the southeastern region of the United States.

The Secretary's Stroke Belt Elimination Initiative (SBEI) awards approximately $8 million over four years within the seven states experiencing the highest stroke death rates. The three grant recipients are: Forsyth Medical Center Foundation, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, S.C.; and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Ala. These institutions along with local community-based organizations will implement and coordinate prevention and awareness programs locally and across the region targeting stroke and hypertension.

"The southeastern region of the country has suffered from the burden of stroke for far too long," Secretary Thompson said. "Through our Stroke Belt Elimination Initiative we will increase hypertension prevention and control activities to eliminate untimely deaths and disability."

While HHS will continue its current high-level efforts to reduce stroke across the U.S., the SBEI is designed to reduce the overall stroke burden among the population that lives in the seven "Stroke Belt" states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The SBEI represents a collaborative effort among HHS agencies and is part of the Closing the Health Gap Initiative, which seeks to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in health care. The SBEI consists of four core interventions including development and implementation of a community-wide awareness and education campaign, a communications network that informs individuals of the availability of free blood pressure screening activities, a component for health professionals that emphasizes improvement of blood pressure control rates for persons with hypertension, and a component for health systems and health plans that emphasizes improvement of blood pressure control rates for persons with hypertension.

"This SBEI is truly a community focused initiative and an important part of our effort to end health disparities," said HHS Deputy Secretary Claude A. Allen. "Through collaboration SBEI will establish activities that identify local partners and coalitions so that we can together eliminate this deadly killer."

As of 2001, the average stroke death rate for the seven core stroke belt states was significantly higher than the U.S. national average or that of the 43 remaining states and the District of Columbia (about 22 percent and 26 percent higher respectively). The specific cause of excess stroke deaths in the Stroke Belt continues to be unknown.

The overall burden of stroke in the U.S. continues to be substantial. Stroke is the third leading cause of death and a leading cause of long-term disability among U.S. adults. On average, someone living in the U.S. has a stroke about every 45 seconds. There are over 700,000 new strokes annually and about 29 percent of these are recurrent strokes. Over 4.8 million adults had a history of stroke in 2001. Stroke events are estimated to generate over $53.6 billion in direct and indirect costs in 2004.

High blood pressure and hypertension are the leading risk factor for stroke. Over 70 percent of persons with a stroke also suffer from hypertension. Critical risk factors also include diabetes, excess weight or salt intake, physical inactivity and smoking.

Additional information on the Stroke Belt Elimination Initiative is available at http://www.omhrc.gov/omh/whatsnew/2pgwhatsnew/funding716faq.htm.

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