World Diabetes Day

By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South- East Asia

The number of people in the world suffering from diabetes is increasing. Nearly 87 million people with diabetes live in the WHO South-East Asia Region. India alone accounts for 65 million, the second highest in the world after China, which has 98 million of the total 392 million diabetics in the world. It is projected that the number of diabetics globally will reach 582 million by 2035. It is estimated that 5.1 million deaths occurred globally last year on account of diabetes.

Diabetes makes people prone to heart diseases, kidney failure and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and HIV/AIDS, among others, leading to premature deaths. Nearly 80% people with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries. The magnitude of the problem is huge and is growing rapidly. We must to act quickly to arrest this trend.

Governments need to revisit their health promotion strategies for noncommunicable diseases to increase awareness about simple and effective lifestyle changes, such as physical activity and healthy diet. Enabling environments must be created for people to adapt these lifestyle changes, with improved access to areas for walking, bicycling, sports and other physical activities. Healthy food should be made available at affordable rates to make healthy choice an easy choice. This requires a holistic approach and must include the private sector and engagement of sectors beyond health.

Another important intervention is creating easy access to early diagnosis and management of diabetes. Approximately half of those with diabetes in the South-East Asia Region are as yet undiagnosed.

While governments have a role in prevention and control of diabetes, individuals can also make a difference by taking responsibility for their own health. Eating right and undertaking regular physical activity to maintain a healthy weight can cut the risk of diabetes or delay its onset. Healthy diet, including consumption of at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, reducing sugar, salt and fat and sufficient physical activity need to be promoted in schools and workplaces.