The one medical disorder that has increased significantly over the past three decades is type 2 diabetes. In 2014, diabetes statistics reveal that there were close to 422 million people living on this planet with the disorder. These numbers are gross underestimates because there are millions more with prediabetes and others who have no access to healthcare that have never been accounted for.
The global prevalence of diabetes has almost doubled to 8.5 % in just 2 decades.
Diabetes is a chronic medical disorder that has spread globally in recent decades. Once it was a disorder found in high-income countries, but today it is commonly diagnosed in low and middle-income countries such as China, Thailand and India. If diabetes is not diagnosed and treated, it can lead to blindness, heart attack, stroke, limb amputations and kidney failure. Almost 50% of diabetes deaths occur before age 70 and the cost of care of these diabetics requires billions of dollars.
The key reason why diabetes has flourished in many countries is because of our changing eating habits, rapid urbanization, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
The economic impact of diabetes is not minuscule. Globally, the cost of being a diabetic is financially draining. Once a person has been diagnosed with diabetes, it also reduces the chance of being employed. This is more commonly seen in the low-income countries, which frequently do not have social welfare or unemployment programs. The cost of care is then transferred to the family members, who themselves are also financially struggling.
In the latest study by East Anglia University, researchers looked at the global economic impact of diabetes and the numbers are frightening. The researchers observed the following:
1. In the USA, the highest costs of healthcare were associated with diabetes, averaging close to $283,000 in a lifetime. These costs are higher than other nations with similar per capita income levels. However, in every nation the cost of diabetes care are astronomical.
2. Diabetes often affects the poorest the hardest, who usually suffer devastating complications and die prematurely.
3. Nearly 66% of all new cases of diabetes occur in low and middle-income nations like India, China, Egypt and Mexico.
4. Men with diabetes tend to have fewer job opportunities globally. Once the bread winner is unable to work, the negative consequences are passed down to the family who can no longer buy food or send children to school. It begets a cycle of poverty from which there is no escape.
5. The cost of diabetes care increases with time and disease severity.
What is clear is that diabetes is not just an individual illness but it has repercussions for the entire country. When millions of people are affected with the disorder, it places a severe strain on public health and governmental resources. While in high-income nations, this financial burden is often felt by the government or insurance plans, in poor countries, it is the individual or the family who are burdened with the expense.
There is now ample evidence indicating that in most cases, type 2 diabetes can be prevented. This requires a drastic change in lifestyle, performing some type of physical activity, avoiding tobacco and maintaining a normal body weight. Thus, in most western countries, healthcare providers have started to screen for prediabetes and educate the public on prevention.
Most of these preventive programs are relatively cheap and require education on dietary changes and recommending exercise.
Today, experts in healthcare are urging the governments to start a program to screen prediabetics and offer education on prevention of diabetes. For countries that fail to do, the impact of diabetes is most likely going to not only drain the healthcare system but also lead to a population, which is disabled and ineffective. The earlier this investment is done in prevention, the better it will be for both the individual and the country. The government policy makers should take note of the old adage: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”