This April 7th marks World Health Day (WHD). The first World Health Assembly, held by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948, declared that WHD would be celebrated on this date from 1950 onwards. I am pleased to see that for the first time ever, WHO has chosen diabetes as its theme for WHD in 2016.
The decision to dedicate the day to diabetes is timely as diabetes is one of the largest global health emergencies of the 21st century. Each year growing numbers of people are living with this condition, which can result in life-changing complications, including heart diseases, stroke, blindness, amputations and kidney failure. The risk of these complications can be reduced through early and accurate diagnosis of the disease, good blood sugar monitoring and sound management – but we need to empower health professionals and people with diabetes around the world with information and technologies if the burden of diabetes is to be controlled.
According to the latest estimates published by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), 415 million adults (83% in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) were living with diabetes in 2015 and this number is expected to rise to 642 million (or 1 adult in 10) by 2040 despite better awareness and new developments in treatment and prevention. I am particularly concerned that around half of people currently living with diabetes do not know they have it. Failure to diagnose diabetes reduces the likelihood that the disease will be well managed, opening the door to complications.
WHD on April 7th is a golden opportunity for all of us – individuals and organisations – working for the benefit of people with diabetes and people at risk of diabetes. We must highlight the importance of all types of diabetes and continue our efforts for enhanced public awareness and action on behalf of health and other public authorities.
Despite the alarming numbers, the real impact of diabetes can be too easily underestimated, misunderstood and ignored. A visit to a diabetes clinic in a low-income urban centre in Bangladesh might clear up any confusion right away. Seated amongst people with bandaged feet, amputations and walking canes for blindness, one can immediately sense that fighting diabetes is like fighting a war. How about accompanying a child in a Rwandan village to a funeral? The child’s father died from diabetes complications before his 42nd birthday. How will that little boy survive without the USD$1.50 his father earned each day?
These are the heart-breaking realities of the global diabetes crisis. Unfortunately, many countries are still unaware of the social and economic impact of diabetes. This lack of understanding is the biggest barrier to effective prevention strategies that could help halt its inexorable rise. Millions of people with diabetes around the world are unaware of the medical technologies that can contribute to the prevention, diagnosis and management of the disease.
I hope that the day will result in strengthened awareness of diabetes and its consequences, triggering specific, effective and affordable actions to prevent, diagnose and treat diabetes. Continued efforts to raise awareness will serve as a catalyst for governments and organisations to act with more haste and greater effectiveness to put in place early interventions, improved screening and timely management to reduce the impact of diabetes on the individual and society.