One in three UAE residents could have diabetes or prediabetes by the end of the decade, according to a new analysis from international health and well-being company UnitedHealth Group released on Tuesday at the World Health Care Congress Middle East meeting in Abu Dhabi.
“As an innovative and technologically advanced country, the UAE is well positioned to make diabetes prevention a top priority and serve as an example to other countries in the region, and around the world.”
The report, “Diabetes in the United Arab Emirates: Crisis or Opportunity?,” estimated that 32 per cent of the country’s adult population, including both UAE nationals and expatriates, may have diabetes or prediabetes by 2020 at a cost of $8.52 billion (Dh31.27 billion) over the next decade if current trends continue.
“These new estimates highlight the urgent need for further action to stem the oncoming tidal wave of diabetes-related illness and related costs in the UAE,” said Simon Stevens, executive vice president, UnitedHealth Group, and president of its Global Health division. “The good news is that curbing this epidemic is possible, since type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. The way forward begins with building on some of the innovative ideas now being tested in the UAE and bringing them to scale, informed by interventions and programs that have been shown to work in other countries facing similar challenges.”
Currently in the UAE, it is estimated that the vast majority of cases of prediabetes and about 35 per cent of cases of diabetes remain undiagnosed, representing lost opportunities to avoid the costs and complications of a largely preventable disease. If left uncontrolled, type 2 diabetes can lead to severe complications, such as heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and limb amputation. Medical costs due to diabetes and prediabetes in the UAE may rise to an annual $1.04 billion (Dh5.14 billion) by 2020, representing a 58 per cent increase from an estimated $657 million (Dh2.41 billion) in 2010, according to the report.
Worldwide, the prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes has increased dramatically over the past two decades on a parallel track with the global increase in obesity. More than 285 million people around the globe have diabetes. Without intervention that figure is expected to climb to 438 million people within 20 years.
Type 2 Diabetes
According to some estimates, the UAE’s type 2 diabetes rate is among the top five countries in the world. In the UAE, about 13 per cent of the population between 20 and 79 years of age has diabetes – more than double the global average of 6.4 per cent.
Being overweight or obese is one of the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, about 73 per cent of adult women and 66 per cent of men in the UAE weigh more than recommended by physicians, placing the country in the top five worldwide in terms of what clinicians consider “obesity.”
“The epidemic of type 2 diabetes and its warning sign, prediabetes, are sweeping across the globe imposing severe health consequences and straining the financial resources of health care systems everywhere,” said Mr. Stevens. “As an innovative and technologically advanced country, the UAE is well positioned to make diabetes prevention a top priority and serve as an example to other countries in the region, and around the world.”
- Screening and Diagnosis: There is an opportunity to reduce the number of people who would develop prediabetes or diabetes by offering straightforward screening tests to people with known risk factors (overweight, inactivity, hypertension, abnormal blood lipid levels, cardiovascular disease, family history and belonging to a high-risk ethnic population). This is an important first step toward health, building on the important initiatives now taking place in some emirates.
- Intervention and Prevention: Enabling and encouraging people to make better lifestyle decisions about diet and exercise directly address the principal risk factors of obesity and inactivity. Intervention studies of people with prediabetes in China, Finland, India, Sweden and the United States have uniformly shown reductions in the progression to type 2 diabetes.
- Disease Management and Control: People with type 2 diabetes who actively manage their condition can more readily avoid the devastating complications related to the disease. This entails careful monitoring of blood sugar levels, taking any prescribed medications as instructed, maintaining weight loss, and increasing the use of self-care measures such as daily foot inspection, and regular eye and dental examinations.
The best hope of turning the tide on the evolving diabetes crisis in the UAE is by establishing community-based initiatives in collaboration with government public health agencies, nonprofit organizations and the private sector that can help to build public awareness about diabetes and its risk factors and modernize health care systems’ ability to use sophisticated data analytics, new technology, and innovative care models that engage consumers in new ways.