‘Diabetes epidemic’ could cripple health system

Photo: 1.1 million people in Australia are living with some form of diabetes. (ABC TV)

Diabetes Australia is warning that the nation’s health system will be crippled unless swift action is taken to limit the spread of the disease.

The latest statistics from the International Diabetes Federation’s 2015 Diabetes Atlas show the disease is on the rise around the world, with one adult dying from the disease every six seconds.

Worldwide, 415 million adults have diabetes, and 85 to 90 per cent of those cases are type 2. In Australia, 1.1 million people are living with some form of the disease.

Greg Johnson, from Diabetes Australia, said diabetes is “fast becoming the biggest disease epidemic to ever affect the globe”.

“These figures really show the continuing rise of the diabetes epidemic around the world,” he told The World Today.

The International Diabetes Federation said another 318 million people are at risk of developing the disease.

While doctors are unsure why type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin, is on the rise, they do have a good idea of why type 2 is becoming more common.

Seventy-five per cent of type 2 patients live in developing countries where rapid urbanisation and sedentary lifestyles are the new norm.

There has also been an increase in gestational diabetes, which affects pregnant women, and can lead to serious harm of both mother and child.

‘One in three hospital beds occupied by people with diabetes’

Mr Johnson said 280 people are diagnosed with the diabetes in Australia every day, and the drain on the health system is huge.

“Here in Australia, it’s estimated that between one in four, and one in three of all our hospital beds are occupied by people with diabetes or a diabetes-related complication,” he said.

“It’s the leading cause of blindness in working aged adults in Australia; it’s a leading cause of kidney failure leading to dialysis.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the seriousness of what that means because it doesn’t matter whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the complications are unfortunately the same if it’s not identified early and not managed properly.”

Yvonne Appleby was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2011, after seven years of undiagnosed illnesses.

“I’d actually put on quite a lot of weight; I was always very small and I ended up putting on 20 kilos in a space of four years and I was always constantly tired, I was constantly getting ear infections, throat infections and I was just really, really unwell all the time,” she said.

Type 2 diabetes is typically associated with poor lifestyle and diet choices, and cases of it are on the rise.

While Ms Appleby said she no longer has any symptoms of diabetes, she concedes she knew very little about it when first diagnosed.

“It was a really big shock and a fright even though I knew what the problem was after all this time,” she said.

“It still didn’t really make it any easier knowing because not knowing anything about diabetes, I didn’t know the first thing about what I needed to do to control it.”

Diabetes will cost the world $1 trillion by 2040

The International Diabetes Federation predicts that health expenditure for the disease will exceed over $1 trillion by 2040.

Mr Johnson said Australia’s health system will not cope unless there is change.

“It’s going to cripple our health system in the next 20 years, if we don’t do more about prevention and also have a major impact on our workforce and our productivity,” he said.

Internationally, an adult dies from diabetes every six seconds, which is greater than the mortality rate of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Mr Johnson said the evidence is there but the action is missing.

“It’s all about prevention and stopping the complications of diabetes,” he said.

“We have really good evidence in both of these areas that we can do much better. The problem at the moment is that the science of our response and our actions is simply not big enough and not strong enough.

“We just need to scale it up and take it more seriously. We don’t have an evidence problem, we’ve got an action problem.

The World Today approached the Federal Health Minister, Sussan Ley, for a response.