On World Health Day, UN urges global efforts to halt rise in diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a third type, characterized by hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, with values above normal but below those diagnostic of diabetes, during pregnancy. Women and their children are also at increased risk of type 2 diabetes in the future. Photo: WHO/A. Esiebo

7 April 2016 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked World Health Day with a strong call for stepping up global efforts to halt the rise in diabetes and improve the lives of those living with this dangerous but preventable and treatable disease.

“We can limit the spread and impact of diabetes by promoting and adopting healthier lifestyles, especially among young people,” he said in his message on the Day, urging people to eat better and be physically active. He also stressed the need to improve diabetes diagnosis and access to essential medicines such as insulin.

“Governments, healthcare providers, people with diabetes, civil society, food producers and manufacturers and suppliers of medicines and technology must all contribute to changing the status quo,” he said.

Diabetes is an ancient disease that is taking a growing toll on the modern world, he said.

In 1980, 108 million adults were living with diabetes. By 2014, that number had risen to 422 million, or 8.5 per cent of adults, reflecting a global increase in risk factors such as being overweight or obese.

Maintaining normal body weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of diabetes.

Even though we have the tools to prevent and treat it, diabetes now causes some 1.5 million deaths a year. High blood glucose causes an additional 2.2 million deaths.

This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued its first Global report on diabetes, outlining the scale of the problem and suggesting ways to reverse current trends. The burden of diabetes is not equally shared, within or between countries. People in low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected. Wherever poverty is found, there are also disease and premature deaths.

Diabetes affects countries' health systems and economies, through increased medical costs and lost wages. In 2011, world leaders agreed that non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, represent a major challenge to achieving sustainable development. Last year, Governments adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which include the target of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one-third.

In her video message, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the agency decided to devote this year's World Health Day to diabetes for many reasons. “The prevalence of diabetes is alarming and is rapidly getting worse. This is a worrying worldwide trend,” she said, calling for healthier lifestyles.

WHO: Message from Director-General for World Health Day 2016 on diabetes. Credit: WHO

Global commitments to reduce diabetes

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,” says Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO's Assistant Director-General for NCDs and Mental Health. “But change greatly depends on governments doing more, including by implementing global commitments to address diabetes and other [noncommunicable diseases].”

These include meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target 3.4, which calls for reducing premature death from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, by 30 per cent by 2030. Governments have also committed to achieving four time-bound national commitments set out in the 2014 UN General Assembly “Outcome Document on Noncommunicable Diseases”, and attaining the nine global targets laid out in the WHO “Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs”, which include halting the rise in diabetes and obesity.

“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,” says Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of WHO's Department for the Management of NCDs, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention.

“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.”


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