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Diabetes: An Indian epidemic

A street stall in Delhi selling soft drinks. Increased availability of sugary drinks and other foodstuffs are linked to the country’s diabetes crisis.

Diabetes continues to be a disease of epidemic proportions in India, as new government figures remind us. 

The overall prevalence of diabetes in the country is 11.8 percent, with men and women almost equally affected. Twelve percent of men are diabetic, compared to 11.7 percent of women. 

The findings come from the National Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy Survey, conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences’s Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmological Sciences. Known diabetes cases account for eight percent of the total burden in the country, the remaining 3.8 percent being newly diagnosed cases. 

The prevalence of diabetes increases with age, the survey found, with those aged between seventy and 79 having the highest rate at 13.2 percent. Almost twelve percent of Indians aged more than fifty are diabetic. 

Concerningly, blood sugar control is lacking among India’s diabetic population. As many as 60.5 percent of India’s diabetes patients lack blood sugar control, despite 85.7 percent receiving oral medication to manage their condition. 

The study had concerning findings for eye health in the country, with the revelation that one in seven diabetic Indians also suffer from some form of visual impairment, including one in 46 diabetics who are blind. This can be linked to low awareness according to the report, which states that “ninety percent of known diabetics had never gone for fundus evaluation for diabetic retinopathy.” 

Diabetic retinopathy, which affects 16.7 percent of Indian diabetics, is one of a number of conditions known under the umbrella term diabetic eye diseases, which can lead to damage to the blood vessels in the retina because of high blood sugar levels. Such conditions rank among the leading causes of preventable eye diseases. 

“Unfortunately, diabetes eye disease is given least importance by the patients and even physicians,” said endocrinologist Dr Anoop Misra. “Retina of eye should be checked once a year in every patient with diabetes to detect early damage and avoid sight threatening retinopathy and dangerous macula swelling as seen in about ten percent of patients in the current study.” 

India’s diabetes crisis is expected to worsen in the coming years. By 2025, some estimates project that there will be 134.3 million diabetic Indians. Already ten percent of Indian youth aged ten to nineteen are prediabetic, a condition wherein blood sugar is high but not high enough for diabetes to be diagnosable. This portends an increased number of cases in the coming years, exacerbated by rising numbers of conditions such as obesity, which are risk factors for developing diabetes, and Indians’ genetic predisposition for diabetes. 

“A tremendous increase in type-2 diabetes” will be observed in India in the coming years, researcher Dr Sanjay Basu told Health Issues India last year. “Diet, urbanisation, and possibly genetics,” he warned, will “crash to produce a terrible combination on the subcontinent.” With the latest findings pointing to the same, it is imperative that diabetics, the medical fraternity, and policymakers take note.

2 thoughts on “Diabetes: An Indian epidemic”

  1. Great post! Thank you for the insightful article. I would like to include a little bit more information that long-term hyperglycemia during diabetes causes chronic damage and dysfunction of various tissues, especially the eyes, kidneys, heart, blood vessels, and nerves.

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