Diabetes is one of the most common noncommunicable diseases. Three hundred and fifty million people worldwide live with diabetes – 80 per cent of them in the developing world – and the disease is becoming more widespread each year due to a combination of ageing populations and the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles.
Unless diagnosed and treated early, diabetes can lead to serious ill-health. Every year, more than three million people who have had diabetes die from problems such as heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. According to the World Health Organization, diabetes-related deaths will increase by two-thirds by 2030.
Diabetes is a development issue. The poor are disproportionately at risk, and affected families are often pushed further into poverty. Diabetes is also straining national health systems and threatening to reverse hard-won development gains in low- and middle-income countries, as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Governments across the globe are struggling to protect their citizens from factors that increase the risk of diabetes. These include unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse. Many governments also face challenges in providing essential diabetes information, treatment and care to those who need them most.
In September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly recognized diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases as a global health and development challenge, and committed to strengthen their prevention and control. At the World Health Assembly in May 2012, Governments established a new and welcome goal of reducing premature mortality caused by chronic diseases by 25 per cent by 2025.
We can significantly advance this goal by raising awareness of the threat of diabetes. Physical activity and healthy diet are effective remedies that should be actively promoted by all governments. Primary health care should be strengthened to diagnose and treat diabetes early. Health companies can contribute by developing affordable medicines and technologies, such as low-cost devices to check blood sugar. And businesses – especially those that profit from selling processed foods to children – can commit to marketing healthier, more sustainable goods.
On this World Diabetes Day, let us commit to greater collective effort to prevent diabetes and improve the quality of life of all who suffer from it, particularly the poor and disadvantaged.