Problem of diabetes in IndiaUnderstanding Diabetes

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diabetes is currently one of the biggest health concerns that the world is faced with.

WHO defines diabetes as “a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces”. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. A common effect of diabetes is Hyperglycemia or increased blood sugar. Diabetes causes some serious health issues including blindness, kidney failure, stroke and heart diseases.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body produces insufficient quantities of insulin. It is usually detected more in children. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not effectively use the insulin produced. This is very frequently due to lack of physical activity, obesity, or incorrect dietary habits. Gestational diabetes occurs among pregnant women. In about 90 percent of cases, it is Type 2 diabetes that people are suffering from. The occurrence of Type 2 diabetes or Diabetes Mellitus may be prevented or delayed by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Diabetes can be identified by telltale symptoms – frequent urination, unusual thirst, excessive fatigue and hunger, weight loss, and wounds that take long to heal. Type 2 diabetes, however, may remain unnoticed and patients may not display any signs for years.

Prevalence of Diabetes in India

According to statistics from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), India has more diabetics than any other nation of the world. Current estimates peg the number of diabetics in the country at about 62 million – an increase of over 10 million from 2011 when estimates suggested that about 50.8 million people in the country were suffering from the disease. If you think the disease has already reached endemic proportions in the country, consider this. By the year 2030, over 100 million people in India are likely to suffer from diabetes, say researchers.

Why are Indians Highly Susceptible to Diabetes?

A number of factors in combination make Indians highly susceptible to Diabetes.

  1. Genetic factors are among the greatest contributors to the rapid spread of this disease. On an average, Indians are four times more likely to develop diabetes than Europeans, based solely on genetic outlook.
  2. Cultural and social factors are no less important. The Indian diet is rich in carbohydrates and saturated fats. A typical Indian diet is has more calories and sugar than required by the body. This is the cause of obesity, which in turn leads to diabetes.
  3. Urban migration and change in lifestyle is another factor that must be considered in the study of diabetes in India. The younger generations are increasingly choosing a sedentary lifestyle. With rising standard of living comes the tendency to consume processed sugary foods.

Looking at this scenario from the socio-economic perspective it is not difficult to understand why Indians are falling prey to diabetes en masse. Of all the states, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu seem to have the highest prevalence of diabetes. Apart from the health risks, diabetes pushes the masses to poverty. News reports say that about a fourth of a person’s income could be spent managing diabetes and diabetes related health issues.

Diabetes Awareness and Research in India

Diabetes screening and identification is a very simple process requiring minimal effort on the part of patients. Cities and suburban regions have good number of screening and detection centres. Much of rural India, however, is not adequately equipped to detect diabetes early on. According to estimates, about 50 percent diabetics in India, mostly in rural areas, are not aware of their condition. While there have been nationwide campaigns, some involving celebrities, for the eradication of polio, TB, malaria, and small pox, no such awareness campaign has been undertaken either by the central government or the states to educate the masses about diabetes.

An estimated one million Indians die each year due to diabetes. Every adult over the age of 40 is at risk, but virtually, no awareness of the disease exists in the country.

The Ministry of Health has also failed in the past decades to commission a nationwide research into the prevalence and access to treatment. Some of the major research works on diabetes in India are undertaken by private institutions such as Madras Diabetes Research Foundation and Indian Diabetes Research Foundation. Some of these research programmes are undertaken independently while others in association with WHO, International Diabetes Research Foundation, etc. Other research projects are undertaken by educational institutions such as universities and pharmaceutical companies. Sadly, despite the precarious health scenario due to the spread of diabetes, the government has turned a blind eye.

The International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) has been running Project Hope since 2007. The project trains and educates health care professionals about diabetes.

Current Treatment Options

Diabetes is usually not reversible. It is treated with insulin therapy. Early diabetes may be controlled by oral drugs but high levels of blood glucose require insulin shots to be administered. Diabetes drugs are easily available across the country in government hospitals and rural medical centres.

Treatment of other diseases caused by diabetes such as diabetic retinopathy and renal failure can be treated by medicine and surgery. Rural Indians can access these facilities at government health centres and hospitals. The Sankara Foundation Eye Hospital holds camps for screening and surgical treatment of diabetic retinopathy across the country.

Preventing Diabetes Mellitus

The onset of Type 2 diabetes or Diabetes Mellitus may be delayed or altogether prevented in a great number of cases. Having a balanced diet is key to diabetes prevention. Exercising regularly and maintaining an ideal body weight is another major factor in prevention of diabetes. Obese people are at an elevated risk of developing diabetes. Avoidance of alcohol and tobacco also considerably reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Regular health checks to rule out diabetes are mandatory for everyone over the age of 40.

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