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WHO calls for global commitments to reduce diabetes

07-Apr-16
Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

The number of people living with diabetes has almost quadrupled since 1980 to 422 million adults, with most living in developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO is marking its annual World Health Day (7 April), by issuing a global call to step up prevention and treatment of the disease.

Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, said: “If we are to make any headway in halting the rise in diabetes, we need to rethink our daily lives: to eat healthily, be physically active, and avoid excessive weight gain.

“Even in the poorest settings, Governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes.”

Diabetes is a chronic, progressive non-communicable disease (NCD) characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose (blood sugar). It occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough of the insulin hormone, which regulates blood sugar, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition and can develop at any age. It usually appears before the age of 40, particularly in childhood. The pancreas does not produce any insulin – the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. If the amount of glucose in the blood is too high, it can, over time, damage the body's organs.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin to function properly, or the body's cells do not react to insulin. Around 90 per cent of adults with diabetes have Type 2, and it tends to develop later in life than Type 1.

Health-promoting environments reduce risk factors

Measures needed include expanding health-promoting environments to reduce diabetes risk factors, like physical inactivity and unhealthy diets, and strengthening national capacities to help people with diabetes receive the treatment and care they need to manage their conditions.

The ‘Global report on diabetes’ shows that in 2014, more than one in three adults aged over 18 years were overweight and more than one in ten were obese.

The complications of diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.

Diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012. Higher-than-optimal blood glucose caused an additional 2.2 million deaths by increasing the risks of cardiovascular and other diseases.

Many of these deaths (43 per cent) occur prematurely, before the age of 70 years, and are largely preventable through adoption of policies to create supportive environments for healthy lifestyles and better detection and treatment of the disease.

Good management includes use of a small set of generic medicines; interventions to promote healthy lifestyles; patient education to facilitate self-care; and regular screening for early detection and treatment of complications.

‘Many cases of diabetes can be prevented’

Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s assistant director-general for Non-Communicable Disease (NCDs) and mental health, said: “Many cases of diabetes can be prevented, and measures exist to detect and manage the condition, improving the odds that people with diabetes live long and healthy lives.

“But change greatly depends on Governments doing more, including by implementing global commitments to address diabetes and other NCDs.”

These include meeting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.4, which calls for reducing premature death from NCDs, including diabetes, by 30 per cent by 2030. Global efforts are underway to make medicines, including for NCDs, more available and affordable.

Dr Etienne Krug, director of WHO’s department for the management of NCDs, disability, violence and injury prevention, said: “Around 100 years after the insulin hormone was discovered, the ‘Global report on diabetes’ shows that essential diabetes medicines and technologies, including insulin, needed for treatment are generally available in only one in three of the world’s poorest countries.

“Access to insulin is a matter of life or death for many people with diabetes. Improving access to insulin and NCD medicines in general should be a priority.”

For more information on diabetes visit: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/

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