There’s nothing wrong with sugar coating the truth, at least on some occasions. But not when it comes to diabetes, which is staking claim to the health and lives of more and more Indians every year. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 60 million people in the country were estimated to suffer from diabetes in 2013 – double the figure in 2000- and experts foresee an upward trajectory, unless the problem is taken seriously by public health agencies, governments and other stakeholders. World Health Day 2016 has Diabetes as its theme, and various efforts are underway to draw attention to the problem.
The urgency of the situation was highlighted at an event hosted by WHO, that brought the media together with a panel of experts. This included Dr. Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India; Dr. Anoop Misra, Chairman, Fortis, CDOC Hospital of Diabetes and Dr. Damodar Bachani, Deputy Commissioner, MOHFW, who shared information on various aspects of diabetes and suggestions on how to tackle it. Type 2 diabetes that is a result of lifestyle and genetic factors, accounts for 90 percent of all cases. Undetected and unchecked, this can lead to serious complications, such as blindness, heart and kidney failure, and even lower limb amputation. An animated discussion and Q & A session yielded insights into the hurdles that prevent early detection and timely treatment. “People need to come forward voluntarily for screening,” declared Dr. Fikru Tullu, WHO Country office for India.
Though the government has dedicated a full department to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) that includes diabetes, efforts to tackle it at the primary care level are small and scattered. Talk about the need for a “multisectoral” approach, and the integration of a diabetes programmes into other national disease programmes (such as TB and cancer) is gaining volume, but we will have to wait and watch, to determine how serious this intention really is. Action points to tackle diabetes by the government will only be revealed once the health policy – still in draft form- becomes formalized. “This may take a few weeks or even months,” said Dr. Bachani.
At an individual level, however, there is plenty we can do. “One hour of exercise a day,” said Dr. Misra (in the pic above), stressing that the 30-minute a day advice making the rounds isn’t applicable to Indians. Indeed, we are a nation more “ethnically” pre-disposed to the disease than others. The reasons are multiple. “Belly fat among Indian men makes them more susceptible to a host of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes,” he emphasized. Our passion for sugary foods; consumption of too many foods laden with trans fats; too low an amount of omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish), combined with an aversion to exercise are other factors to blame for the surge in diabetes among young Indians. Dr. Misra reminded the audience that undiagnosed and unchecked diabetes is a killer, and that healthy and responsible lifestyle choices make a big difference. “Eat green leafy vegetables, a handful of nuts, more beans and berries,” he concluded.