Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

World Diabetes Day: The silent killer endures

On World Diabetes Day, a new report by International Diabetes Federation (IDF) bears bad news to the Arab world, already boasting the highest prevalence of diabetes worldwide and reeling from its different side effects. According to the report, 35.4 million adults aged 20-79 of the Middle East and North Africa region are living with diabetes – over 40.6% of these are undiagnosed.

In 2015, over 340,000 people died due to diabetes, and projections for 2040 expects the number of people with diabetes to almost double, rising to 72.1 million.

Moreover, the silent killer is depleting resources in the region, with overall health expenditure eating up 15% of the region’s healthcare budget and it’s not enough. Although expenditure is also expected to double by 2040, the IDF says it will “likely not be enough to adequately treat all people with the disease.”

The wide infrastructure development, rapid urbanization, increased life expectancy and reduced infant morality also translated into lifestyle changes that included soaring rates of diabetes across most countries in the region, especially the Gulf states.

This time last year Nature Middle East ran a detailed infograph tracing the effects of the soaring epidemic. And nothing has changed much since then, except for the certainty that diabetes is still killing more than 10% of all adults in the region, and nearly half of these under 60, the cost to society and development due to the disease and other metabolic syndromes is high and rapidly growing.

The disease is worse in some countries than others. For instance, a report by our writer Louise Sarant earlier this year cited a study by King Fahad Medical City in Riyadh, predicting that over the next ten years, one in four Saudis will be at risk of having a fatal heart attack.

Of the 4,900 urban-dwelling Saudis monitored by the study, 26% were at high risk of having a heart attack in the next decade. Those in the cohort did not have a history of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and were between the ages of 20 and 40.

Of those studied, the research found out that 25% had diabetes, 34% hypertension, 25% were smokers, 27% were obese, 86% were not involved in any physical activity and 19% had dyslipidemia, an abnormal level of lipids in the blood.

Another report published a year earlier, also by Sarant, warns of a sharp hike in type 1 diabetes cases. More alarmingly, the incidence among infants of this type was reported to be growing with children developing the disease as early as six months, rather than the established peak ages of around seven and at puberty, when hormones antagonize the action of insulin.

Regional experts have told Nature Middle East that changes in policy, and better research into diabetes, is needed. But it seems that few are listening.

In short, the region has a ‘fat’ diabetes problem, and it’s not waning. And the Middle East and North Africa, like the rest of the world, are no closer to a cure.



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