The burden of diabetes in the UAE

The UAE has one of the world’s highest rates of diabetes in the world but this can be changed

Daily exercise and diet control play an indispensable role in managing diabetes. The National
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No one needs to be reminded of the value of good health and the irreplaceable asset that it is. Diseases and ill-health are universally seen as the ultimate threat, so much so that we typically wish people the best of health even before happiness. Since March 2020, however, a common notion of good health has been largely intertwined with Covid-19, and testing negative for the virus. But now that the pandemic is largely behind us – even as some countries are still trying to contain it, and others, such as the UK just this past week saw a 31 per cent jump in infections – there needs to be a focus on other health impediments, including lifestyle diseases such as diabetes that are hindering too many people from living a full life.

About 422 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, according to the World Health Organisation, most of whom live in low and middle-income countries. And each year, 1.5 million deaths are directly linked to this preventable disease. The alarming fact, superseded in recent years by concerns over the coronavirus, is that both the number of cases and the prevalence of diabetes have been on the rise over the past few decades.

A conference in Abu Dhabi last week was the latest forum that called attention to the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the country and, worryingly, in children. “This is the only society that deals solely with paediatric diabetes,” said Dr Asma Deeb, the president of the International Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Diabetes. Add to that, the UAE has one of the world’s highest rates of diabetes, at about 18.7 per cent. For this number to not increase further and reach the expected high of 21.4 per cent by 2030, vital steps must be taken.

This comes down to individual effort, leading a physically active life. The importance of people overhauling their eating habits, reducing junk food, and exercising cannot be stressed enough. The benefits of this begin to show not just on diabetic patients over time, but healthcare systems in the country are relieved of a significant cost.

The benefits of being physically active begin to show not just on diabetic patients over time, but on healthcare systems in the country

The National has often reported on the progress of patients determined to reverse diabetes, as was the case of Huda Al Ali, a mother of two, in her 50s, who lost 28 kilograms over two years by eating healthy and exercising. That is the sort of determination people of all ages need to change their lifestyles.

The government already plays a significant role in encouraging people to be active and healthy, and to have regular check-ups for indicators. There are also a number of fitness and awareness programmes regularly launched to control lifestyle diseases. This year, President Sheikh Mohamed gave a grant to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute for diabetes research through his global health initiative, Reaching the Last Mile, that combats global diseases and supports research and development.

There are other potentially pioneering medical projects in the works. In the field of medical and research infrastructure, the UAE Healthy Future Study assesses risks of chronic diseases, including diabetes, among Emiratis, by examining real-time data. But there is only so much that the government can do to encourage people to take their health seriously. Actual results come down to the effort and determination that people like Huda Al Ali put in.

There are also innovative means being tried in the UAE to motivate people to reduce their diabetes biomarkers and lower their body mass index. In Ras Al Khaimah, a 12-week diabetes challenge by RAK Hospital and the Ministry of Health and Prevention, launched in September, offered people a monetary incentive of Dh20,000 to lose weight and avert diabetes.

As the world turns a corner with Covid-19, it is time to focus on addressing a larger set of diseases. Most people know the toll diabetes can take – it was the ninth biggest cause of death in 2019, according to the WHO. Given the abundance of information, resources, support and medical help at hand, acting swiftly to address the problem of diabetes is imperative.

Published: October 17, 2022, 2:00 AM