Diabetes Spirals Out of Control in Gulf

March 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

mcdonalds The unprecedented growth of diabetes around the world has raised red flags in the medical community, which is seeing a global spike in the disease in both the young and old alike. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gulf nations where the UAE is rated as 2nd in the world for the most diabetics per capita, 27% of the population is diabetic with the same percentage at risk for developing the disease. Other Gulf nations like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also fighting an uphill battle against the illness with more and more of their residents succumbing to a similar fate as their tiny Gulf neighbor.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in the world. It happens when the body stops producing insulin or when the body still produces insulin but is unable to respond to it. The most common treatment is the external administration of insulin through injection. However, many cases of diabetes in the Gulf go undetected until severe signs of the disease become manifest. Unlike most western nations, who are increasing budgetary expenditures to meet the influx of chronic disease within their borders, Gulf nations spent less than 4% of the GDP on the health sector last year that is in sharp contrast with the US who spent more than 11% of its GDP.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of diabetes is the requirement, for some patients, to have a limb or extremity amputated. Diabetes restricts the amount of blood that flows throughout the body thus damaging nerves and often causing gangrene to set in. The only way to save the patient’s life is to amputate and even then it is estimated that the patient will only have 5 more years to live. In Saudi Arabia, where 25% of the population is diabetic, more than 90 foot amputations are carried out each month, which roughly translates into 3 amputations per day.

The increased revenue from years of oil surpluses and a life of ease has created a perfect storm that has swept through the Middle East with a ferocity that has taken many by surprise. With more money in the family budget, many families eat out a few times a week. And the choice of restaurant is not always the healthiest. Fast food restaurants, junk food and fizzy carbonated drinks have for years crept into the hearts of Gulf denizens who often prefer a McDonald’s Big Mac to traditional fare. Add to that the lifestyle in the Gulf, which turns lounging around into a sport and makes ‘exercise’ a dirty word.  Children are the most at risk for developing diabetes before they even reach puberty due to obesity, a decrease in physical activity and an increase in sedentary activities such as surfing the Internet or playing video games.

Diabetes is called the ‘silent killer’ for a reason as many people either don’t know they have it or ignore the treatment to care for it. Eating healthfully and engaging in exercise is often pushed to the wayside in favor of more pressing issues, like earning a living or caring for a family. According to the International Diabetes Fund, there are more than 250 million known cases of diabetes in the world. That figure is set to exponentially rise to 380 million in the next 15 years. And unless the governments of the Gulf take preventative measures now, the Middle East nations will make up a bulk of those cases. For this reason, the UAE based Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) has launched an initiative in cooperation with His Highness Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Academic Medical Center to make 2009 the year to combat diabetes in the kingdom, educate the public and help doctors to better treat the disease.

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