WHO calls for global response to diabetes epidemic on World Health Day

Diabetes blood test

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for a global response to what it terms a diabetes epidemic as well as action on diabetes prevention and improvements in care for those already living with the disease.

WHO is marking its annual World Health Day - the anniversary of its founding - this year by issuing a call for action on the condition, and is urging governments to do more to promote healthy lifestyles, provide education on the condition, introduce improvements to screening for earlier detection and encourage health authorities to improve data collection and monitoring.

Diabetes numbers have quadrupled

Its first ever global report on diabetes, the WHO has revealed that there are 422 million people worldwide living with the largely preventable condition – a number that has quadrupled since 1980. The WHO says one of the driving factors behind this increase is the prevalence of people who are overweight or obese.

Change depends on governments “doing more”

Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Disease (NCD) and Mental Health, says: “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.”

Access to medicine “a matter of life and death”

Diabetes Medication

Dr Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department for the Management of NCD’s, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, says the WHO report indicates that essential medicines and technologies required for treatment are only readily available in 1 in 3 of the world’s poorest countries. She adds: “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.”

WHO is urging governments to focus more on prevention as well as looking at improving treatments for those already living with diabetes, which can result in complications including stroke, heart attack, blindness, kidney failure and nerve and tissue damage which can lead to limb amputation, if the condition is not properly managed.

According to NHS Choices, there are 3.9 million people currently living with diabetes in the UK – triple that of 20 years ago – and the number is expected to reach 5 million by 2025. The annual cost of diabetes to the NHS is around £5.6 billion, two-thirds of which is spent on managing what are sometimes avoidable complications. Around 10% of UK diabetics have type 1 diabetes, and the remaining 90% are type 2 diabetic.

Diabetes – is it avoidable?

According to NHS Choices, diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood glucose, or sugar, level to be too high. In a healthy person that is not diabetic, the pancreas naturally produces a hormone called insulin which controls the level of glucose in the blood.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin. It is usually diagnosed before the age of 40 but can develop at any age. Those who have it are described as insulin-dependent and will need to inject themselves with a synthetic form of insulin a number of times a day.

In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or the body’s cells no longer react to insulin as they should. Type 2 can sometimes be managed with careful diet alongside blood sugar monitoring but medication is often necessary to keep glucose levels stable.

Gestational diabetes

If you are a woman who has previously been diagnosed with gestational diabetes (a temporary kind of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy), you may also have an increased risk of going on to develop type 2 diabetes.

While genetics, age and family history are all said to be factors that may increase the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, certain lifestyle choices may also increase an individual’s risk of developing the condition. These include:

Sedentary lifestyle – work and leisure that involves long periods of time spent sitting down

Poor diet – a diet that is high in fat, salt and sugar with inadequate fruit and vegetable intake

Being overweight or obese.

Symptoms of diabetes

Glass of water

Symptoms occur when glucose from food remains in the blood instead of being used by the body as fuel. The body tries to flush out this excess sugar in the urine and for this reason, a person with uncontrolled diabetes may feel extra thirsty and consequently need to urinate more frequently.

Symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased tiredness
  • Weight loss or loss of muscle

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