Ahead of World Health Day, the World Health Organisation said that South Asian countries including India must take "vigorous and concerted" action to prevent and treat diabetes, a potentially fatal disease which has reached epidemic proportions and could become "the world's seventh largest killer by 2030".
The World Health Organization (WHO) also said governments "must" regulate the marketing of food to children as well as ensure accurate food labelling to help the consumers make decisions that can help them avoid diabetes.
"Diabetes rarely makes headlines, and yet it will be the world's seventh largest killer by 2030 unless intense and focused efforts are made by governments, communities and individuals," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia ahead of World Health Day which falls on April 7.
World Health Day this year focuses on diabetes and calls for scaling up efforts to prevent, care for and detect the disease to arrest the global epidemic which is hitting the low and middle income countries the most.
"Diabetes is of particular concern in the Region. More than one out of every four of the 3.7 million diabetes-related deaths globally occur in the Region, while its prevalence exacerbates difficulties in the control of major infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.
"Almost half of the 96 million people suffering from the disease do not know they have it. If diabetes prevalence continues to rise, personal, social and economic consequences will deepen," Singh said. Sedentary lifestyles coupled with sugary, salty and fatty diets rich in refined carbohydrates are driving the epidemic, which in the region affects primarily those in their productive prime. WHO said nearly 90 per cent of all diabetes cases are of Type 2 diabetes, largely the result of excess body-weight and physical inactivity.
Type 2 Diabetes is both preventable and treatable if detected early and, if not properly managed, the disease causes serious damage to every major organ in the body, resulting in heart attack, stroke, blindness and nerve damage.
"There are individual steps that we can, and must take. Eating healthy and avoiding sugary drinks is a good place to start. We must also control our portion sizes, and ensure they are matched with our energy needs rather than the size of our plate," Singh said.
Singh said taxing sugary beverages and re-investing the revenue in health promotion activities is an evidence-based intervention that makes real change. "Governments must also increase access to health care and promote educational campaigns regarding self-management and control, as well as making treatment less costly. Diabetes can be managed successfully. It does not have to lead to complications or be fatal," Singh said.
She said early detection and strict adherence to management strategies are essential to limiting diabetes-related complications. World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948. Each year, a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of public health.
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