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Every six seconds, someone in the world dies from diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose.

Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose.

World Diabetes Day, which is celebrated internationally on November 14, marks the start of a yearly campaign, which aims to increase awareness on the escalating health threats posed by diabetes. Diabetes is one of the four priority non-communicable diseases  identified by the WHO, along with cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke, cancer and chronic respiratory disease.

Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose, which may over time lead to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

The International Diabetes Federation estimates that 366 million people are living with diabetes worldwide and by 2030 this number is expected to rise to 552 million if nothing is done. Diabetes is estimated to be responsible for nine per cent of the total health expenditure in the European Region.

In Malta, it is estimated that 40,000 people (one in 10) are currently living with this condition.   The Ministry for Health launched the first national diabetes strategy for Malta in 2015. The strategy identifies key priority areas for action, including prevention and early diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes, improved access to innovative quality treatment, further developing patient centred services in diabetes care, promoting quality of life from a patient’s perspective, paediatric diabetes and research. Since the launch of this strategy, there have been advances in several of these areas.

366 million people are living with diabetes worldwide and by 2030 this number is expected to rise to 552 million if nothing is done. In Malta, it is estimated that 40,000 people are living with this condition

Over time, the consumption of sugar has soared to very high levels. This is mirrored with increased rates of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. A healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in sugar and saturated fats can help prevent Type 2 diabetes, and help people to manage Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes if they have it.

The World Health Organisation recommends a reduction of ‘free sugars’ throughout the life course. They recommend that we should keep our intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of our total energy intake. Furthermore, the WHO  goes on to further suggest that this amount should be further limited to below to five per cent (25 grams or six teaspoons a day) of our total energy intake for maximum health benefits.

Many of the risks leading to type 2 diabetes originate in the very early stages of life, influenced by maternal under- or over-nutrition, diabetes in the mother and the foetal and post-natal environment. Hence, a life course approach for a healthy lifestyle is important from preconception, throughout pregnancy and early stages of life as well.

Type 2 diabetes often develops over several years and may remain asymptomatic until complications occur. This means that important opportunities for treatment and control to avoid debilitating complications are often missed. Diagnosing and treating type 2 diabetes early is an important strategy for preventing or delaying costly and debilitating complications. Earlier diagnosis of diabetes remains an important priority.

The diabetes weight management programme is a multidisciplinary programme which focuses on education and behaviour change for people with diabetes to increase health literacy, improve patient outcome and quality of life. The programme supports participants to increase regular physical activity to reduce weight, improve diabetes control and reduce complications.

The theme of World Diabetes Day 2017 is ‘Women and diabetes – our right to a healthy future’. The global campaign will promote the importance of affordable and equitable access for all women at risk for or living with diabetes to the essential diabetes medicines and technologies, self-management education and information they require to achieve optimal diabetes outcomes and strengthen their capacity to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Every six seconds, someone in the world dies from diabetes. This condition is relevant to all people around the world, as well as multiple stakeholders, including government, civil society, the private sector and intergovernmental agencies. Hence, by getting together, we can achieve better outcomes.

Dr Charmaine Gauci is Superintendent for Public Health.

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