ABU DHABI // More than 800,000 people have diabetes in the UAE – and almost half do not know it.
Data from the International Diabetes Federation to mark today’s World Diabetes Day shows there are 37 million diabetics in the Mena region, including 803,900 in the UAE.
The IDF says about 40 per cent (327,000) in the UAE are unaware they have diabetes. It predicts the region’s figure will rise by more than 80 per cent to 68 million by 2035 unless action is taken.
“We didn’t have this disease in this part of the world three decades ago,” said Dr Habiba Al Safar, an Emirati researcher who has been looking for a genetic link to diabetes in nationals.
“Statistics say 19 per cent of people in UAE suffer from diabetes and this is a huge number. Imagine what it will be like in 2030. We need to take care, especially the younger generation.”
The IDF says diabetes will kill 363,000 people in Mena this year, 53 per cent of them under the age of 60.
Meanwhile, Sharjah Education Council says nine cases of cancer and 79 of diabetes were uncovered in free tests of pupils in 88 schools this year. The data was released for World Diabetes Day.
“The incidence of diabetes is increasing all over the world,” said Dr Abdulrazzaq Al Madani, president of the Emirates Diabetes Society. But he said the UAE had made strides.
In 2001 the country ranked second in the world for prevalence. It now ranks 16th.
“This is an achievement,” Dr Al Madani said. “Earlier people did not know what diabetes was but now they do.
“Focusing on fighting obesity and ensuring that one follows a healthy lifestyle is important. Children should be advised to run, exercise, avoid smoking and fight off obesity.”
The Diabetes 2014 Atlas puts the UAE fifth in the region for prevalence, behind Saudi Arabia with 23.9 per cent, Kuwait with 23.1, Bahrain with 21.9 and Qatar with 19.8.
The UAE had about an 8 per cent increase from the reported 745,940 diabetics last year.
The Marshall Islands topped the list of countries for prevalence with 37.1 per cent of the population having diabetes.
Seven of the top 20 countries for diabetes are from the Mena region but almost half of have not had the disease diagnosed.
The region is the worst in the world for diabetes prevalence, IDF says.
“We are seeing an increase in diabetes prevalence and mortality year-on-year,” said Prof Adel El Sayed, chairman of the Mena branch of the IDF. “However, we now have simple, cost-effective ways to tackle this increase.
“Investing in healthy nutrition and increasing the accessibility of healthy food choices will reduce the global burden of diabetes and save billions in lost productivity and healthcare costs.”
Diabetes numbers continue to increase worldwide with 387 million people, or 8.3 per cent of adults, living with it. That number is estimated to rise to more than 592 million by 2035.
Type 2 diabetes, caused by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors, accounts for by far the most cases.
But up to 70 per cent of Type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented or delayed by adopting healthier lifestyles – equal to as much as 150 million new cases by 2035.
The IDF says that every seven seconds, someone in the world dies from diabetes.
The global health expenditure in tackling the disease reached US$612 billion (Dh2.24 trillion) this year, which is a rise of 63 per cent since 2010.
* with additional reporting by Anam Rizvi