“Diabetes rarely makes headlines, and yet it will be the world’s seventh largest killer by 2030 unless intense and focused efforts are made by governments, communities and individuals,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of the World Health Organisation’s Southeast Asia office ahead of World Health Day.
World Health Day, which takes place on April 7, this year focuses on diabetes with calls to scale up efforts to prevent, care for and detect the disease in a bid to arrest the global epidemic which is hitting low- and middle-income countries hardest.
“More than one out of every four of the 3.7m diabetes-related deaths globally occur in the region, while its prevalence exacerbates difficulties in the control of major infectious diseases such as tuberculosis,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
“Almost half of the 96m people suffering the disease are unaware that they have it. If diabetes prevalence continues to rise, the personal, social and economic consequences will deepen.”
Sedentary lifestyles coupled with sugary, salty and fatty diets rich in refined carbohydrates are driving the epidemic, which in the region affects primarily those in their productive prime.
Nearly 90% of all diabetes cases are of type-2 diabetes, largely the result of excess bodyweight and physical inactivity. It is both preventable and treatable if detected early.
Dr Khetrapal Singh called on governments to regulate the marketing of food to children, and insist on accurate food labelling.
By taxing sugary beverages and re-investing the revenue in health promotion activities, they would be making an evidence-based intervention that would make for real change, she said.
Governments must must also increase access to healthcare and promote educational campaigns regarding self-management and control, as well as making treatment less costly, she added.
World Health Day is celebrated each year on April 7 to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948. Each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of public health.