India diabetes capital, but still has chance to control it

India is home to 50.8 million people with diabetes, the highest in the world, followed by China with 43.2 million. But experts say low prevalence of the disease offers an opportunity to control it. Sanchita Sharma reports.
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Updated on Oct 21, 2009 12:04 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Sanchita Sharma, New Delhi

India is home to 50.8 million people with diabetes, the highest in the world, followed by China with 43.2 million.
There are 285 million people in the world suffering from diabetes, the number has gone up from the estimated 150 million in 2000, reports the Diabetes Atlas, which was released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in Montreal, Canada, on Tuesday.

The US accounts for $198 billion or 52.7 per cent of total diabetes spending worldwide. India spends US$2.8 billion or 1 per cent of the global total.

“In most low or middle-income countries, public medical services and insurance are lacking and people with diabetes pay out of their own pocket, dragging many families into poverty,” said Professor Nigel Unwin, who led the team that worked on the Diabetes Atlas.

This is where prevention can play a role.

“Low prevalence offers a window of opportunity to control the disease. Clinical experience across India, however, shows that people don’t get tested regularly for the first 10 years after diagnosis because they have no symptoms. The first decade is critical as prevention measures taken then can prevent complications, especially related to heart disease, which accounts for 75 per diabetes deaths,” said Ambrish Mithal, senior endocrinologist, Apollo Hospitals.

Diabetes now affects 7 per cent of world’s adult population, with more than half aged between 20 and 60. IDF predicts that, if the current rate of growth continues unchecked, the total number will exceed 435 million in 2030 -more than the current population of North America.

India and China are ahead because of their huge population. Comparative adult prevalence — percentage of people over 18 years who have diabetes — in both countries, however, remains below 10 per cent. India’s adult prevalence is 7.8 per cent, and China’s, 8.5 per cent.

The worst-hit are countries in the Gulf, where five are among the top 10 countries affected. More than 80 per cent of diabetes spending is in developed countries and not developing ones, where over 70 per cent of people with diabetes now live.

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