Strokes of inspiration

IT IS a global crisis that is growing at an unprecedented speed. Diabetes around the world has increased exponentially over the past three decades, and the number of people afflicted is reaching dangerous levels.

By Mohamad Kadry (Staff Reporter)

Published: Mon 9 Jun 2008, 11:53 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:17 PM

Dreadfully, our youth are on the fast track of health decline, particularly in the UAE and broader region due to an early onset of obesity.

But UAE health officials are determined to stem the tide by introducing the problem to youth as early as possible. The ‘Inspired By Diabetes’ campaign saw local children compete in an art competition that best displayed the onslaught and solution to diabetes. While the drawings were simple and amusing, they held a deeper message concerning youthful knowledge.

Under the patronage of Dr. Mariam Matar of the National Diabetes Committee and Dr. Al Madani of the Emirates Diabetes Society, a collaborative effort is underway to ensure that alleviating the plight of diabetics is at the forefront of medical policy in the UAE, and creating awareness among general public remains the best way to stop diabetes from reaching epidemic proportions.

Diabetes affects 246 million people worldwide.

The number of diabetes cases may rise to 380 million within 20 years, affecting 5.9 per cent of the world’s adult population and accounting for 3.8 million deaths a year. Not surprisingly, some 80% of those afflicted live in low-and-middle-income countries, although the disease knows no prejudice remaining prevalent in every socioeconomic class.

By 2025, an 80% increase is expected in the Middle East and South-East Asia.

City Times had the distinguished opportunity to speak exclusively with Dr. Ali Shakir, Director General Ministry of Health in the UAE.

Offering insight and reflecting on the combined threat diabetes and obesity poses to the region particularly and the world in general, Dr. Shakir thinks information and awareness are the key weapons in fighting the battle against this growing threat.

Why is it important to focus attention on the plight of diabetes now?

Unfortunately diabetes is not only the UAE’s problem, rather it’s become a global issue. It is important to discuss diabetes as a real issue, as a real complication of a disease. When we found that in the UAE 22% of the general population are affected by diabetes, it means that we are close to the ‘red line’ so we have to be careful and we have to be aware of what preventative measures can be taken including precautions we should take to reduce this percentage.

In terms of reaching dangerous ground associated with diabetes, what do you consider to be the ‘red line’?

Whenever it’s high it’s high.

Some countries reach 26% or 27% of the general population affected by diabetes, and I don’t think we are that far away from such numbers where we stand. I think the United States reduced their rate down to 10% or 15%, but it took a lot of time and they spent a lot of money educating society and strategising to reduce diabetes in the country.

The UAE has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, leading to higher rates of diabetes among youth. How do we reduce this effect?

We do have a high percentage of obesity in the UAE, and unfortunately it is one of the main risk factors of this disease. That’s why we are trying to educate and promote healthy diets for everyone, especially beginning in childhood. It should be started not only by schools and families, but by the whole community sector.

What are some steps that parents can take to start reversing the effects of obesity, and to promote a healthier lifestyle in general?

The parents should take on these responsibilities, but in reality 60% to 70% of a child’s day is spent outside the parent’s control. I think responsibility should be a ‘combined responsibility,’ which means it should take place between the parents, health sectors, and the schools. Even food producers should be strategising towards the same goal. Of course I don’t want to neglect the parents’ responsibility, because it’s so important, but unfortunately we don’t always know what our kids are eating when they’re away.

Do you feel that if we don’t begin to seriously address the issue of diabetes in the UAE, it has the potential to be a real health crisis?

Of course, we have to start as soon as possible. This is why our national committees are determined to make a UAE strategy to battle diabetes, and the first two issues in this strategy include an accurate diagnosis of the number of people affected by diabetes in the country, and secondly we must push education and information by promoting a clear programme to youth and the general population as a whole.

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