Every year on April 7, the World Health Organization celebrates World Health Day to draw worldwide attention to a priority global public health concern. Since the institution of the Day in 1948, the WHO has highlighted important global issues ranging from mental health and maternal health to food safety and road safety. This year, the focus is on diabetes. The World Health Organisation is by thus calling on governments, health care providers, advocates and families to scale up prevention, strengthen care and enhance surveillance to curb the global diabetes epidemic. The main goals of the World Health Day 2016 campaign are to increase awareness about the rise in diabetes, and its staggering burden and consequences, in particular in low- and middle-income countries; and to trigger a set of specific, effective and affordable actions to tackle diabetes.
The issue of diabetes must be taken seriously because the disease and its complications bring about substantial economic loss to people with the disease and their families, and to health systems and national economies through direct medical costs and loss of work and wages. WHO estimates that about 422 million people worldwide live with diabetes. This figure represents an increase of almost 400 percent from the 1980 figures. It is also frightening that an estimated 3.7 million deaths were directly attributed to diabetes in 2012, out of which 2.2 million were due to high blood sugar. This is alarming and calls for urgent action on the part of governments and families. Governments, especially in the developing world must come up with measures to regulate the fat and sugar content of foods to ensure the availability of healthy options to people. Ghana can take a cue from Mexico and Britain by imposing taxes on sugary drinks. In 2014, Mexico became the world's first country to impose a sugary soft drink tax. In March, Britain also followed suit with Chancellor George Osborne announcing a new tax on sugar-containing soft drinks slated to take effect in 2018. It is also important to note that the menace of diabetes can be curbed with simple life style changes such as regular exercise, maintaining body weight and a healthy diet.
The surge in the disease also calls for better urban planning that encourages people to cycle and walk. According to the WHO, even in the poorest settings, governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes. It must be noted that diabetes is treatable and can be controlled to prevent future complications through "increasing access to diagnosis, self-management education and affordable treatment. But many people in especially developing countries are dying from the disease due to non-availability of facilities or the cost of treatment. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that the price of insulin, which is an essential drug in the treatment of diabetes, almost tripled from four point three four dollars per milliliter in 2002 to 12 point nine two dollars in 2013. According to the Director of WHO's Department for the Management of Non Communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, Dr Etienne Krug, about 100 years after the insulin hormone was discovered, essential diabetes medicines and technologies, are generally available in only one in three of the world's poorest countries. This point is further corroborated by the latest Afrobarometer survey findings which reveal that almost half of Africans go without needed health care, and one in seven have to pay bribes to obtain needed care. Public ratings of government performance in improving basic health services have worsened over the past decade, with almost half of Africans saying their government is doing fairly or very badly. This re-enforces the need for African governments to scale up their investment in the health sector. Efforts to prevent and treat diabetes will be important to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goal 3 target of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030. Many sectors of society have a role to play, including governments, civil society, and the media.
BY: GEORGE DARLINGTON, ACCRA.