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India’s diabetes crisis continues to mount

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India’s diabetes crisis continues to mount. Uncontrolled diabetes, in particular, is a major concern.

As reported by The National Herald, “several medical studies have shown that India has fast become the diabetes capital of the world with a large percentage of patients suffering from uncontrolled diabetes.” The report notes how the COVID-19 pandemic has become a matter of particular concern, in light of diabetes being a comorbidity with potentially severe ramifications for the patient in question.

The weekend marked World Diabetes Day, an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness of a disease that it is on the rise the world over. Research published in The Lancet ahead of the occasion outlined that “in 2019, 463 million people had diabetes worldwide, with eighty percent from low-income and middle-income countries. Over seventy percent of global deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory disease. On average, diabetes reduces life expectancy in people aged forty to sixty years by four to ten years and independently increases the risk of death.”

India’s diabetes crisis is staggering in scope. Last year, a survey by the National Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy Survey conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences’s Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmological Sciences found that “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.”

A key message of the Lancet paper is the diabetes crisis’s universalism. Diabetes affects high-income and low- and middle-income countries alike (notwithstanding, of course, substantial socioeconomic disparities in terms of access to care and treatment). 

“By protecting our environment, changing our practice, and empowering our communities, we can reduce the burden of diabetes as a root cause of many noncommunicable diseases,” said the paper’s lead author Dr Professor Juliana Chan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The diabetes epidemic is a calling that concerns all of us, as everyone has contributed to the ecosystem in one way or another to fuel the epidemic. 

“As such, we all have the collective responsibility to rise to this challenge to sustain our environment and to use our finite resources wisely to preserve humanity. The global challenge of diabetes transcends political, economic, social, and technological domains.”

The study authors note

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the vulnerability of people with diabetes during a public health emergency became evident by their at least two times increased risk of severe disease or death, especially in individuals with poorly controlled diabetes, comorbidities, or both. The disease burden caused by COVID-19, exacerbated by chronic conditions like diabetes, has inflicted a heavy toll on health-care systems and the global economy.”

Grappling with the advice of the experts is imperative for India’s decision makers. India is a country whose burden of diabetes is rising fast, due to a combination of lifestyle and socioeconomic factors as well as the population’s genetic predisposition towards the disease. In addition, as many as 60.5 percent of Indians fail to properly control their blood sugar – heightening the risk to their health. 

In just a half-decade, as previously reported by Health Issues India, “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.” 

COVID-19 may dominate the news cycle, but lying below the surface is a host of conditions that we neglect at our peril. Ensuring access to care for those with diabetes, awareness-raising, and promotion of best practices to lower one’s risk of developing diabetes or managing their condition – such as a healthy diet – are the needs of the hour. 

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