November 14 is an opportunity to draw attention to this deadly and costly silent killer and its devastating effects

November 14 is World Diabetes Day. It is also the 120th birthday of Frederick Banting, who over 90 years ago discovered insulin, a drug which is responsible for helping some of the 366 million people with diabetes around the world maintain a healthy life.

Yet, just shy of a century after it was invented, many people are still unable to access this lifesaving drug and are denied the right to a healthy future and, in many cases, the right to life.

Diabetes affects millions of people and kills millions more through disabling complications. It is also implicated in and has negative consequences for certain infectious diseases, including tuberculosis (TB), other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and for mental health.

Escalating costs

Diabetes is not only a health crisis; it is a global societal catastrophe. Governments worldwide are struggling to meet the cost of diabetes care. Costs to employers and national economies are escalating and every day low-income families are being driven into destitution by loss of earnings due to diabetes and the crippling lifelong costs of healthcare. In India, the annual total cost associated with diabetes care was estimated to be 31.9 billion in 2010 and a further 10 % rise in prevalence increased the amount to 38 billion USD. The latest studies show that within a two year span there was an increase of 22.8 % in the prevalence. With such an impact on the national economy, we have to say enough is enough; the time to act is now.

World Diabetes Day, an official UN day, provides us all with the opportunity to draw global attention to this deadly and costly silent killer and its devastating effects. The campaign aims to increase awareness of diabetes and its complications through key aspects of diabetes care and management. It is the third year of a five-year campaign that focuses on education and prevention.

We are starting to see an increase in prevention and control programmes in India. With 61.3 million people now living with diabetes in India, action is long overdue. Health professionals and people with diabetes alike are being educated to recognise diabetes symptoms, risk factors and associated complications, such as nerve damage, most commonly in the feet and complications in the eye such as glaucoma.


Where appropriate, people are also being educated on preventive action, including lifestyle changes and dietary habits and increased physical activity. Other strategies such as self-monitoring of blood glucose, stress management and multifaceted healthcare- and community-based interventions are also proving effective in reducing and controlling the burden of diabetes.

On September 19-20, world leaders met in New York for the first-ever UN high level meeting on the Prevention and Control of NCDs, including diabetes in which 193 heads of government and State were present to sign a Political Declaration, recognising “the global burden and threat of NCDs constitutes one of the major challenges for development in the 21st century, which undermines social and economic development throughout the world.” This is a step in the right direction but countries and their governments now need to cement NCDs, including diabetes, into their longer term health planning alongside other health challenges. November 14 gives us the chance to raise awareness about diabetes and a chance to reflect on how far we have come in this battle and how we can continue to make a difference in turning rhetoric into action. Be part of the change. It is time we stopped sleepwalking into a sick future. The time to act on diabetes is now.

Ann Keeling is CEO of the International Diabetes Federation. Dr. Vijay Vishwanathan is a Chennai-based diabetologist.


Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012