World Health Day: Rapidly Rising Diabetes Closely Linked to Poverty

  • by Lyndal Rowlands (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Demaio, who specialises in non-communicable conditions and nutrition, said that poverty is a risk factor for diabetes across low, middle and high income countries, disproportionately affecting poorer populations, apart from the absolute poor who mostly live in low income countries.

In light of the rapid increase in the disease, the WHO made diabetes the theme of this year's World Health Day on April 7.

"We've had an enormous increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the past 30 years," Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO told IPS.

As of 2014 there were 422 million people living with diabetes, compared to 108 million in 1980. Worryingly, Branca said that "half the people with diabetes don't know," particularly in developing countries where diagnoses can be limited and health services may not have the ability to do the required glucose blood tests. In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, said Branca, health workers have been known to mistake the symptoms of diabetes for malaria which they are more accustomed to diagnosing.

The rapid increase in the prevalence of diabetes is in part due to "dramatic changes in diets around the world", over the past few decades, said Demaio, as well as "changes in the environmental systems that deliver these foods."

Many of the people affected are in so-called middle income countries, but they are often the urban poor. For example said, Branca there is "a very dire situation in countries like India" where people have been moving away from the country side to areas where they are exposed to different life conditions and a different diet.

For those in the poorest countries, getting access to treatment can be difficult. Insulin, which is an essential part of diabetes management, isn't available at all in 23 percent of low income countries, said Branca. Health services in developing countries are also not equipped to treat the complications of diabetes, including limb amputations and kidney dialysis, and, said Branca, diabetes is now the leading cause of blindness.

The high cost of accessing health care for diabetes and the disability it causes means that diabetes can also lead to poverty, said Demaio, describing the relationship between diabetes and poverty as cyclical.

Branca and Demaio said that the sharp rise in non-communicable diseases has resulted in a different approach by the United Nations and the World Health Organization to nutrition and health-related issues.

The U.N. General Assembly recently declared the years 2016 to 2015 as the decade of action on nutrition.

The focus on nutrition now reflects a "a wider conceptualisation of nutrition", said Demaio, recognising that conditions like obesity and diabetes are also related to poor nutrition.

According to a Lancet study published last week, there are now more people in the world who are obese than underweight. However, Branca added that it is possible to be both overweight and undernourished in important nutrients, particularly iron. There are other connections as well, for example in Latin America it is common for children who are stunted, short for their age, to be overweight.

© Inter Press Service (2016) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service