Opinion

Diabetes must be checked

Omar Sherief Mohammad | Updated on July 22, 2021

A collaborative approach can reverse the rising trend

The International Diabetes Federation estimates that there were about 77 million Indians living with diabetes as of 2019, which could increase to 101 million by 2030. This dire forecast trigger immediate and urgent action to augment health resources and push for measurable results to reverse the current rising trend of diabetes.

There is general agreement amongst experts about the need for early diagnosis to find those who are pre-diabetic and those who do not know that they may have lived with elevated blood sugar levels for some time. This is why universal screening for diabetes should be the first step to lower the burden of the disease.

In tandem, public education programmes should be conducted on a continuous basis, informing people about lifestyle factors that predispose a person to diabetes and how they can be changed. Also, healthcare professional should be persuaded to actively screen for diabetes in their patient populations, particularly those above a certain age and with other medical conditions that could lead to diabetes.

Here is a model that can stem the conversion from pre-diabetes to diabetes and measurable results. It is built on the following three pillars:

Screening: Community-based screening programmes are at the crux of a diabetes management programme. These can help detect and diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes in early stages, even before there are noticeable symptoms. Therapy interventions and lifestyle counselling must be integrated with the screening programme, so that those who are diagnosed can start receiving the right treatment immediately.

Such a screening programme needs participation from multiple partners including government-run primary health centres and health officials, NGOs, and private players. The right public health partner can also help in data collection and analysis, which can give insights to aid government policy and determine what barriers need to be overcome or the interventions that need to be strengthened for better diabetes management.

Awareness: Screening programmes must run in tandem with public awareness initiatives on diabetes. Critical to the success of such a programme is the development of clear, concise and easy-to-understand communication material, in local languages: leaflets and pamphlets can be distributed through primary healthcentre, healthcare workers or downloaded from a website. Other media channels and platforms including traditional print, social and digital media should also be used.

Even young children can benefit from education material on diabetes. Several NGOs that work with children or in schools can aid the execution of such programmes. The increase in type 1 diabetes cases, which emerge in childhood, is signalling another growing challenge in the diabetes space in India.

Education: The medical competency circle needs to be enlarged for reversing the diabetes trend by educating paramedics and community healthcare workers on how to recognise, screen for and monitor treatment for those with pre-diabetes or diabetes. Centres of excellence can be set up, where foremost diabetologists and endocrinologists in the county provide systematic training sessions for these cadres on diabetes management? The centres could also organise online certification courses in association with State governments, conduct virtual workshops, and distribute clinic educational materials.

A single company, NGO or medical association cannot change the trajectory of diabetes in India on its own. Nor can the government on its own. A PPP (private public partnership) model, which has the right blend of partners with clear responsibilities, can implement an effective diabetes control programme. The recent pandemic has demonstrated the value of health and pharma sector companies collaborating to bring about change effectively. Some of these learnings can be applied to diabetes.

The writer is Head India, Middle East & Africa, Roche Diabetes Care

Published on July 22, 2021

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