World Diabetes Day

Also known as Diabetes Mellitus, diabetes, as it is popularly known, is a group of metabolic disorders characterised by a high blood sugar level or hyperglycemia over a prolonged period. Symptoms often include frequent urination, increased thirst and increased appetite. If left untreated, diabetes can cause many health complications, including diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state, or death. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, foot ulcers, damage to the nerves, damage to the eyes, and cognitive impairment. Diabetes occurs when either the pancreas is not producing enough insulin or the cells of the body are not responding properly to the insulin produced. There are three main types of diabetes mellitus. Type 1 diabetes results from the failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin due to the loss of beta cells and was previously referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or juvenile diabetes and usually appears during childhood or adolescence, but can also develop in adults. Type 2 diabetes begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin properly. As the disease progresses, a lack of insulin may also develop which was previously referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes. Though more common in older adults, a significant increase in the prevalence of obesity among children has led to more cases of type 2 diabetes in younger people. Gestational diabetes is the third main form and occurs when pregnant women without a previous history of diabetes develop high blood sugar levels and blood sugar usually returns to normal soon after delivery. However, women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

The seventh leading cause of death globally, in 2021, approximately 537 million adults between the ages of 20 and 79 are living with diabetes with the total number of people living with the disease projected to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045. 3 in 4 adults with diabetes live in low-and middle-income countries and almost 1 in 2 or 240 million adults living with diabetes are undiagnosed. The disease has caused 6.7 million deaths and at least US 966 billion dollars in health expenditure which is 9% of total spending on adults. More than 1.2 million children and adolescents between the ages of 0 and 19 are living with type 1 diabetes with 1 in 6 live births or 21 million affected by diabetes during pregnancy. 541 million adults are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

I have been a diabetic for about eight years now and so like to use this day to highlight this silent disease. Held annually on 14 November, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922, World Diabetes Day’s main focus is the global awareness campaign focusing on diabetes mellitus. World Diabetes Day was launched in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation, IDF and the World Health Organization, WHO in response to the rapid rise of diabetes around the world. By 2016, World Diabetes Day was being commemorated by over 230 IDF member associations in more than 160 countries and territories. It became an official United Nations Day in 2006. The campaign is represented by a blue circle logo that is the global symbol for diabetes awareness. It signifies the unity of the global diabetes community in response to the diabetes epidemic.

Every year, the World Diabetes Day campaign focuses on a dedicated theme that runs for one or more years. The theme for World Diabetes Day for the years 2021 to 2023 is Access to Diabetes Care. Millions of people with diabetes around the world do not have access to diabetes care. People with diabetes require ongoing care and support to manage their condition and avoid complications. Medicine, technologies, support and care have to be made available to every diabetic that requires them. Governments have to increase investments in diabetes care and prevention. The rising number of people affected by diabetes is putting added strain on healthcare systems because it is the healthcare professionals who must know how to detect and diagnose the condition early and provide the best possible care. And simultaneously, people living with diabetes need access to ongoing education to understand their condition and carry out the daily self-care essential to staying healthy and avoiding complications.

2022 is also the centenary of the discovery of insulin. In May 1921, the experiments that would culminate in the synthesis of commercially available insulin first began in Toronto, Canada. Frederick Banting and Charles Best experimented on several diabetes-induced dogs with limited success. A breakthrough came when one of the dogs, named Marjorie by the Toronto team, survived for 70 days with injections of the pancreatic extract, or Isletin as the team were calling it. On January 23, 1922, the first successful injection of insulin was administered to a person living with diabetes.

More people must know the importance of this condition and how they can recognise the signs and symptoms. This knowledge will allow individuals and entire families alike to support each other in their efforts to live healthier, diabetes-free lives. While some risk factors for developing diabetes cannot be changed, making healthy lifestyle choices can dramatically reduce a person’s chances of developing it. The key ways one can reduce the risk of developing diabetes include exercising 30 minutes or more, at least five days a week because exercise helps in losing weight, naturally lowers and maintains blood sugar levels, and boosts the body’s sensitivity to insulin, allowing the body to properly manage its blood sugar levels. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight because in many cases, being overweight or obese is the number one trigger that sets off the development of diabetes. One should also eat a healthy diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, as opposed to sugary drinks and snacks.

So get moving, eat healthily and stay healthy to beat diabetes, the silent killer.

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