The pioneering discovery of therapeutic insulin in 1921 and the subsequent and continued advances in diabetes care and treatment have improved health outcomes for millions of people with diabetes. Regardless, insulin and other fundamental components of diabetes care – monitoring equipment and supplies, oral medicines, education and psychological support – remain beyond the reach of many people with diabetes who need them to survive.
Securing universal access to insulin and other fundamental components of diabetes care remains a global challenge. The barriers to insulin access and affordability are myriad and complex, reflecting the multiple steps involved in the production, distribution and pricing, as well as the infrastructure required to ensure appropriate and safe use.
New figures released by the International Diabetes Federation ahead of World Diabetes Day show that 537 million (one in ten) adults now live with diabetes worldwide – a rise of 16% (74 million) since the previous estimates in 2019.
Diabetes is a serious, potentially debilitating and life-threatening condition that can impose a heavy impact on individuals and their families, as well as on healthcare systems and national economies. This is particularly the case for low and middle-income countries.
In many cases, if diabetes is detected and treated early and managed with uninterrupted care, people affected can prevent or delay the often devastating complications associated with the condition. Worryingly, approximately half of people estimated to be living with diabetes remain undiagnosed. Many will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which accounts for at least 90% of all diabetes, because they enter a clinical environment with a problem, unaware that it would have been caused by diabetes. Left untreated with insulin, type 1 diabetes is fatal.
We are living in extraordinarily difficult times, in which people with diabetes are facing the additional health threat posed by Covid-19. We have seen that people living with diabetes can be more susceptible to the worst complications of the virus and share a concern with many colleagues that the current situation may increase diabetes complications over the coming years. Moreover, we should worry that the legacy of the pandemic will see resources and attention focused on infectious diseases to the detriment of all non-communicable diseases, including diabetes.
Action to address the diabetes pandemic must include access to affordable and uninterrupted care for every person living with diabetes, regardless of where they live or economic circumstance. This should be complemented by investment in policies to improve the prevention of type 2 diabetes and screening to ensure timely diagnosis and help people delay or avoid diabetes-related complications.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization launched the Global Diabetes Compact and United Nations Member States adopted a Resolution that calls for urgent coordinated global action to tackle diabetes. It is now up to governments and policymakers to transform words into meaningful action. In a world where children with diabetes still die because they cannot access the care they need to survive, action is long overdue. Taking action on diabetes is a moral imperative now, and if not now, when?
United, the global diabetes community has the numbers, the influence and the determination to bring about meaningful change. We need to take on the challenge. We owe it to the millions of families affected by diabetes.
The theme of World Diabetes Day this 14 November is Access to Diabetes Care. IDF is calling on national governments to provide the best possible care for people living with diabetes and develop policies to improve diabetes screening and type 2 diabetes prevention, especially among young people. Learn more at www.worlddiabetesday.org.
More information and supporting data about the national, regional and global prevalence of diabetes can be found at www.diabetesatlas.org. The 10th Edition of the IDF Diabetes Atlas will be launched at the IDF Virtual Congress 2021 on 6 December.
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