Press Release WHO/85
12 November 1998
"DIABETES AND HUMAN RIGHTS"
14 November 1998 -- World Diabetes Day
"The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race religion political belief economic or social condition." WHO's Constitution
Striking inequalities in access to medical care among an estimated 120-140 million people with diabetes in the world were highlighted today by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in connection with World Diabetes Day, marked this year under the theme "Diabetes and Human Rights".
The theme was chosen to promote the rights of the people with diabetes to medical care, relevant information and education and equal employment opportunities, as well as to coincide with 1998 as the UN Human Rights Year, marking the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
WHO and IDF also warned about an urgent need to prepare national health services for a projected increase in the number of diabetic patients, which may well double by 2025. According to WHO estimates, the greatest impact of this increase will be born by the developing countries, where the expected growth may be a staggering 150% -170%.
Given the rapid rise in the number of people affected by diabetes in the developing world, WHO and IDF emphasized, there was an urgent need to develop national diabetes programmes. These programmes involve reorganization of the health care systems and a revision of priorities.
"The right to medical care for these people means early diagnosis and proper management of diabetes, the availability of insulin and oral medications to regulate blood sugar and advice on proper diet and exercise. But, first and foremost, this medical care should be affordable and easy to access," commented Dr Hilary King, responsible officer at WHO in Geneva.
Already today, diabetes accounts for an increasing proportion of national health care budgets. The total outpatient costs of diabetes in Tanzania in 19891990, for example, were estimated at US$2.7 million, out of a total health care budget of US$47.2 million, of which insulin supply alone accounted for US$800 000.
Indispensable for survival for some and necessary to maintain the near normal blood glucose levels in many other patients with diabetes, insulin remains under utilised in many developing countries. A recent survey has revealed that at present only 3% of people with diabetes in developing countries are treated with the drug, as compared to 13% in the developed world. The reasons are complex -- from culturally-based misconceptions to chronic shortages.
Chronic shortages, Dr King explained, may arise not only from lack of finance in the health sector, but also due to poor procurement, ineffective distribution and inadequate storage. In many developing countries, insulin may be found in urban centres, albeit at a high price, but not at all in rural areas, due to the absence of a distribution system or adequate storage facilities.
People with diabetes have the right to education and information that can improve the quality of their lives. Education and information are essential to help overcome the widespread misconceptions about the drug. For example, because it is injected, many people believe that insulin is a drug of addiction and are unwilling to use even when it is freely available. Accurate information from a trusted source is needed to dispel such beliefs.
"Public awareness and understanding are a major factor in the early screening and diagnosis of diabetes. Professional education also needs to be improved so that diabetes is more readily diagnosed and better treated by health care professionals and those with diabetes can be taught as much as possible about managing their own condition," commented from Maria L. de Alva, President of the International Diabetes Federation.
Together with the other major noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes is projected to become one of the world's main disablers and killers within the next quarter-century.
Co-sponsored by WHO and IDF since 1991, World Diabetes Day raises public, professional and political awareness about the disease.
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