UAE doctors urge diabetics to keep fit amid concerns over global Covid death toll

People with Type 2 face twice the risk of death from coronavirus, while those with Type 1 are three times as vulnerable

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UAE residents with diabetes have been urged to exercise and not miss doctors’ appointments amid concerns over the global death of people with the condition.

About 40 per cent of people who have died from Covid-19 in the UAE were diabetic, officials said recently – about double the proportion expected if diabetics did not face increased risk of complications from the virus.

That is in line with figures from other countries, with studies indicating that people with Type 2 diabetes face roughly twice the risk of death from the virus, while those with Type 1 diabetes are more than three times as vulnerable.

Dr Raghib Ali, director of the Public Health Research Centre at New York University Abu Dhabi, said that while diabetics faced greater dangers from the coronavirus, there were also risks in spending prolonged periods at home in isolation.

People can have a bad outcome with diabetes because of the virus itself or it can make their diabetes control worse

“Diabetics do have a higher risk from the coronavirus – double the background risk," he said.

"But if you just stay at home, don’t exercise and eat more, you have a higher risk of obesity and your diabetic control getting worse with all the complications this can cause, and it can also adversely affect your mental health.

“It’s important to maintain a healthy diet and high levels of physical activity. It’s about being sensible and weighing up the risks and benefits.

“I would stress again to people to do their best to control their diabetes. You should not miss doctors’ appointments. If it’s well controlled, if they catch coronavirus, they will have a better outcome.”

As the pandemic continues, researchers are trying to understand how the coronavirus affects people with diabetes, who make up about 18 per cent of the UAE’s population.

In the UK, Prof Kathleen Gillespie at the University of Bristol is involved in a project to test thousands of people with Type 1 diabetes to determine how many have had Covid-19 and its impact on them.

“It is now clear that individuals with diabetes are at increased risk of complications of Sars-CoV-2 infection and there are also reports of increased numbers of diagnoses of Type 1 diabetes cases since the pandemic,” she said.


While the risks from the coronavirus go up with Type 1 diabetes, Prof Gillespie said the reasons behind it were not clear.

“We hope our study will help better understand this. Obesity is a known risk and it might be considered this might play a role in additional risk in individuals with Type 2 diabetes, but not those with Type 1,” she said.

“Our studies also include family members with Type 2 diabetes, so we will be able to learn more about Covid-19 in the two major forms of diabetes and work out if it increases risk in both in the same way.”

As well as often having impaired immunity, diabetics are more likely to be obese and to have high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease.

“There’s good data from studies that has shown the higher the number of co-morbidities, the higher the risk of death,” said Dr Ali.

“People can have a bad outcome with diabetes because of the [coronavirus] infection itself or the infection can make their diabetes control worse.”

By damaging the pancreas, coronavirus may worsen a person’s diabetes or even cause it in a person who did not have the illness.

At a recent press conference in Oman, the country’s health minister, Dr Ahmed Al Saidi, said the sultanate had seen cases of Type 1 diabetes that resulted from Covid-19.

A recent study in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology reported that people with diabetes were not at greater risk of actually catching the coronavirus, which contrasts with previous epidemics, where they were more likely to be infected.

People with diabetes should now be especially careful in maintaining good health, said Dr Ashar Jamal, an emergency doctor at Al Zahra Hospital in Sharjah, who was infected with Covid-19.

“They’re supposed to walk, they’re supposed to eat good meals, they’re supposed to control their diabetes so their immunity stays strong, so in case they get infected, their body is [able] to fight it off,” he said.