Progress in diabetes control in Thailand

November 2012

Peerada Quanpet is a 26-year old medical student living in Bangkok, Thailand. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension.

Preerada Quanpet tests her blood sugar levels regularly
WHO/Giulio di Sturco

“I was extremely overweight and never did any exercise,” says Peerada. “Looking back, my diet was pretty bad. I only used to drink soft drinks and lived on fast foods and sweets.”

Peerada’s wake-up call came in 2010. Aged just 24, she suffered two strokes that left her with reduced hearing and a partially paralyzed face.

One in 13 adult Thais has diabetes

Diabetes is a growing public health challenge for Thailand. One in 13 adult Thais has diabetes, a lifelong illness that increases the risk to suffer heart attacks and strokes at an early age and can lead to premature death. Over time, diabetes can damage the heart blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Diabetes also exacerbates the impact of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Nationwide diabetes and hypertension screening campaign

The diabetes screening programme reached the target population even in the most remote villages
WHO/MoH Thailand

Until recently, many of Thailand’s diabetics, particularly those living in rural areas, had no idea of their condition. This changed in 2009, however, when the Government, with technical support from WHO, launched a nationwide diabetes and hypertension screening campaign for people aged 35 and older. By the end of 2011, more than 90 percent of these people had been tested.

“The screening campaign has greatly increased public awareness of the extent of Thailand’s diabetes problem,” says Dr Maureen Birmingham, Representative of the World Health Organization in Thailand. “We discovered that 1.5 million people were at risk and more than 350 000 new cases were diagnosed.”

All people who were newly diagnosed with diabetes through the screening programme were treated and received appropriate care.

Diabetes occurs either when the body does not produce enough insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar) or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. The body’s response to excess glucose in the blood is to get rid of it through frequent urination. In the Thai langauge, diabetes is referred to as the “sweet urine disease”. In rural areas, villagers often first become aware that it is present because they notice ants gathering around their outdoor toilet.

Promoting a balanced diet and physical activity

To prevent and control the disease, the Government of Thailand developed a strategy to promote a balanced diet and physical activity. The strategy also looks at ways to provide social and emotional support to people with diabetes. All government health security schemes cover the costly care for the chronic disease.

Regular physical activity helps Preerada Quanpet to control her diabetes
WHO/Giulio di Sturco

“The worst part about having diabetes is needing to monitor my sugar levels and inject myself twice a day,” says Peerada. “Even though I’ve been injecting insulin for four years, the needle still hurts each time.”

Initially, Preerada felt overwhelmed by her diagnosis. Now, however, she has come to grips with her illness and made an effort to change her lifestyle to prevent further health problems. She no longer eats at fast foods restaurants, but eats more fresh fruit and vegetables and drinks water instead of soft drinks . “I also go to the gym a couple of times a week,” she reports proudly. “This is the only way I can control my condition.”