WHO Director-General launches diabetes report
Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization
A warm welcome to all who have joined us, in this room and online, as we celebrate World Health Day.
This is the day, set aside each year, when we focus on a major public health issue to commemorate the establishment of WHO in 1948.
This year, we are highlighting diabetes as an especially challenging disease that deserves much more attention. The impact of this chronic metabolic disease on individuals, families, communities, health systems, and health budgets is staggering.
The concern is universal. Long considered a disease of rich societies, diabetes is now increasing in prevalence everywhere, with the most striking, and devastating, increases seen in the developing world.
Worldwide, the prevalence of diabetes has doubled since 1980. WHO estimates that 422 million adults had diabetes in 2014.
When diabetes is not detected early and not controlled early, the health consequences are dire. Diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes and nerves. For example, lower limb amputation rates are from 10 to 20 times higher among people with diabetes.
In poor populations everywhere, the costs of managing diabetes can be catastrophic, pushing households below the poverty line. The costs are likewise crippling for health budgets and national economies. WHO estimates that, each year, diabetes costs the world nearly $830 billion in direct medical costs alone.
Diabetes debilitates, but it also kills. Diabetes is responsible for around 1.5 million deaths each year. High blood glucose levels contribute to an additional 2.2 million deaths, mainly by increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Many of these deaths are preventable.
The lives of people living with diabetes can be improved by expanding access to essential medicines, including life-saving insulin, and making technologies, such as those needed to measure blood glucose levels, more readily available.
At present, insulin is generally available in only around 23% of low-income countries. In such settings, diabetes patients who depend on insulin for survival pay the ultimate price for this failure to make essential medicines and technologies readily available and affordable.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets a very ambitious targetof reducing premature mortality from four noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, by one third.
This is truly ambitious. Against the background of what I have just highlighted, much more needs to be done. Other targets call on countries to reach universal health coverage and ensure access to affordable essential medicines. WHO’s own global action plan on NCDs seeks to stop the rise in diabetes and obesity by 2025.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have a great deal of work to do, but we also have good guidance. Today, we are launching the first WHO Global report on diabetes. This is good guidance.
The report makes an important contribution to our understanding of diabetes and its consequences. Its recommendations are a call to action on multiple fronts.
Data set out in the report underscore the need for action, not only from people living with diabetes, but also from different sectors of government, health care providers, civil society, and the manufacturers of medicines and medical technologies. We also need to engage the system that produces and markets our food.
I invite all of you to do your part. In your personal lives, this means eating healthy foods, being physically active, and guarding against excessive weight gain. Have your blood glucose measured periodically, and strictly follow the advice of your health care provider.
In fact, the diabetes crisis and its huge costs provide one of the most compelling incentives for preventing excess body weight through diet and exercise. This point was strongly underscored by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.
Obesity in childhood can be a direct cause of accelerated onset of diabetes, which was once considered an adult disease. This is no longer the case, as we are seeing more and more cases of diabetes in children and adolescents.
Moreover, the prevention of childhood obesity must start with good nutrition in mothers and fathers even before pregnancy begins.
For governments, reducing the diabetes burden means putting policies in place that promote healthy eating and physical activity throughout the life course. Policies that promote breast-feeding and protect children from the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages are especially important.
It also means improving the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes by putting in place standard protocols and making the necessary medicines and technologies readily available and affordable.
Since its inception 68 years ago, WHO has drawn on the power of population-wide preventive strategies as a way of lowering morbidity and mortality.
On this World Health Day, diabetes represents a prime opportunity for putting this power to work. The payback will be immense.