ABU DHABI // More than 280,000 cases of diabetes were diagnosed in the UAE last year – a rise of 35 per cent on 2014.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates that last year there were 1,086,300 diabetics in the country, compared with 803,940 in 2014.
Experts blame obesity, lifestyle and greater awareness of the disease for the soaring figures.
“Definitely there is an expected increase in the number of cases of diabetes, taking into consideration the current trends of diabetes risk factors plus the under-diagnosed diabetes cases,” said Dr Ibtihal Fadhil, a regional adviser at the World Health Organisation.
“The increase in the number of cases in the Gulf is related to lifestyle. Modernisation has brought unhealthy diets.
“This has lead to an increase in obesity, which is a critical factor to the formation of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”
Prevalence of the disease rose from 10 per cent of the population in 2013 to 14.6 per cent last year, and more increases are expected, Dr Fadhil said.
The WHO estimates that about 34.5 per cent of Emiratis are obese and 70.6 per cent are overweight.
“We are not seeing that the awareness programmes are really changing the lifestyles of people. People have to take it more seriously,” she said.
Working on awareness, prevention and lifestyle changes is essential, but screening and prevention have to be strengthened, said Dr Fadhil.
“The government of UAE are looking into how to ensure prevention. They have many diabetes centres in the country and it’s focusing on screening, which will minimise the cost,” she concluded.
Last year, the cost per person in the UAE with diabetes with US$2,155.90, while in 2014, the cost per person was $1,967.40. In 2014, 1,335 people lost their lives to diabetes in UAE while in 2015, there were 1,384 deaths due to diabetes.
Dr Abdulrazzaq Al Madani, president of the Emirates Diabetes Society, said improved awareness and better health facilities have encouraged people to get screened, leading to more cases being detected. Change in lifestyle is also a factor, and as the average age of the population increases, so does the risk of diabetes.
Creating a UAE diabetes registry with data on all patients and their complications would help to understand the extent of the problem in the country, he said.
Dr Job Simon, consultant endocrinologist at Burjeel Hospital, said the prevalence of diabetes is on the rise worldwide. Last year, 415 million people had diabetes globally, and the figure is expected to reach 642 million by 2040.
“Increasing obesity is a factors. About 90 per cent of the diabetics I see are obese,” he said.
Treatment costs for patients have also risen, and doctors say new, expensive medications may be a reason, as well as complications such as amputations or kidney problems that arise the longer people live with the disease.
Dr Simon advised people to get daily exercise and ensure they do not gain weight. Building more public paths and cycle tracks would help people get more activity in their daily lives.
Dr Dinesh Kumar Dhanwal, consultant endocrinologist at NMC Specialty Hospital Abu Dhabi, said a sedentary lifestyle coupled with eating out a lot can be linked to diabetes. He said encouraging patients is key.
“It depends on how you motivate and empower patients. We guide them and it becomes easier,” said Dr Dhanwal. “My objective is: live healthier and longer.”