World Diabetes Day, held on the 14th of November every year, is an international day that aims to raise awareness of the risks of diabetes. While diabetes educational campaigns exist throughout the year, this date was specifically chosen by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization to commemorate the birth of Frederick Banting, who in 1922, with the help of his assistant Charles Best, discovered insulin — the substance necessary for the survival of many people with diabetes.
Each year, World Diabetes Day focuses on topics related to diabetes, such as diabetes and human rights, diabetes and modern lifestyle, diabetes and obesity, diabetes in the weak and malnourished, and diabetes in children and adolescents. The 2015 campaign will shed light on diabetes and healthy eating.
In preparation for World Diabetes Day next November, we met with Executive Director of Qatar Diabetes Association, and Regional Director of the International Diabetes Federation in the Middle East and North Africa, Dr. Abdullah Alhumq and put the following questions to him:
What is your plan for the World Diabetes Day march this year?
A walk for World Diabetes Day will take place on the 13th November 2015 and will be held at 3pm at Aspire Zone, around the lake area. This public walk aims to raise awareness in the community about diabetes.
What are the statistics for diabetes in Qataris and expatriates?
There are no statistics for non-Qataris, but for Qataris, the first country-wide survey was done in 1999, and the prevalence rate was 15.07 percent. This percentage rose in the 2008 survey to 16.7 percent. In 2012, the Supreme Council of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, did a stepwise survey and found that the ratio was still 16.7 percent and had not increased. It is worth mentioning that more than 25 percent of the State budget on health is spent on diabetes and its complications.
How do you explain that the ratio didn’t increase from 2008 to 2012?
We think that citizens’ awareness about diabetes has increased and that the various efforts and programs have yielded positive results. Ten years ago only about 20 to 25 people visited Qatar Diabetes Association per day. This number has grown to between 100–150 people a day.
And how is the turnout of Qataris?
It is not high, and most of them come to receive the insulin pump installation service. We offer this service for children under the age of 18 who need it, especially those living with type 1 diabetes. The insulin pump has several important features including saving children from the pain and hassle of having to inject themselves multiple times per day.
How concerned is Qatar with diabetes?
As part of the broader strategy of the State, the National Commission for Diabetes has recently been established. The strategy began with public health, followed by cancer, and this year a strategy for diabetes will be announced. Through this new committee, there will be a new survey of diabetes in Qatar and we will witness the launch of new programs, God willing.
What causes diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs as a result of an autoimmune disease (the immune system attacking itself) or a viral infection in the pancreas, which results in the pancreas halting its insulin production. It was once called “Juvenile Diabetes” because in the past they used to think that it affected only children, however recent research has proven that it can affect adults as well. It often occurs in people younger than 30 years old and is characterized by a complete lack of insulin, so its treatment mainly depends on receiving this substance.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a relative lack of the insulin hormone (also known as insulin resistance) so it does not depend on insulin treatment but sometimes it is needed. People with type 2 diabetes usually suffer from weight gain and obesity, that’s why the treatment should focus on diet, exercise and tablets to stimulate the pancreas.
And which type is the most dangerous?
Type 1 affects about 5–10 percent of the cases of diabetes while type 2 affects the remaining 90 percent, but the real danger lies in the complications of diabetes, which can affect 5 different organs in the body (heart, limbs, eyes, liver and kidneys).
This is in addition to the problem of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, which can cause a coma if severe enough, and even death. That’s why we always insist on the importance of monitoring sugar levels constantly, especially when fasting. If sugar drops to 70 or less then the fast should be broken.
What are the initial symptoms of diabetes?
There are many different symptoms of diabetes like frequent urination, weight loss, feelings of thirst and hunger, blurred vision, and dry mouth and skin. It is vital to educate people about the symptoms and the importance of screening and early diagnosis because what many people do not know is that 50 percent of people with diabetes do not know they have it. And some do not discover it until the case is advanced and some of the late complications, like those that affect the vision, have emerged.
What do you think of some doctors who rush to prescribe medications for patients with diabetes?
This is contrary to the protocol. A diet and exercise program must be followed first and doctors should only resort to medications if this approach fails to control diabetes.
What do you recommend to avoid diabetes?
I recommend exercising and healthy food. Studies have shown that even light exercise, such as walking for half an hour a day, and eating healthily can prevent diabetes.