From the World Diabetes Congress, Montreal
“Improving the quality of life for people with diabetes at all levels,” Dr. Jean Claude Mbanya replied when I asked him what his primary goal would be over the next 3 years of his term as president of the International Diabetes Federation.
The steps to achieving that goal, which he outlined in a speech at the World Diabetes Congress, actually target something even broader: A restructuring of the world’s health care priorities to focus more attention on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
With sedentary lifestyles and unhealthful diets proliferating everywhere, chronic conditions now pose a greater threat to health than do infectious diseases in many parts of the developing world, said Dr. Mbanya, professor of medicine and endocrinology at the University of Yaounde, Cameroon, and chief of the endocrinology and metabolic diseases unit at Hospital Central in Yaounde.
According to the IDF’s newly released Diabetes Atlas, there are now 285 million people in the world with diabetes, nearly double the 151 million reported in 2000.
Contrary to common belief, most people with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries rather than the wealthy ones, although the latter is where the vast majority of health care funds are spent. India has the highest number of people with diabetes (51 million), followed by China (42 million), and the United States (27 million). “No country is immune to diabetes,” Dr. Mbanya said.
In 2006, a United Nations Resolution on Diabetes recognized the disease as a threat to global health and economic development. That document is IDF’s mandate, he said.
Next steps include furthering an established alliance with the World Heart Federation and the International Union Against Cancer, which have jointly called for the UN to convene a special session on NCDs. The three health organizations also are urging the UN to incorporate NCD indicators in the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which currently specify only HIV/AIDS and malaria as diseases that need to be addressed in the name of improving world development.
Indeed, Dr. Mbanya believes that the disproportionate focus on infectious diseases at the expense of NCDs has distorted health funding: The World Health Organization budget for infectious diseases is 10 times more than the amount earmarked for NCDs, mental health, and injuries combined. Money shouldn’t be taken away from infectious disease, he said, but instead health systems should be restructured to “treat the whole person and not compartmentalize treatment by disease.”
By the same token, IDF and other NCD organizations also are calling for essential medicines to treat NCDs—including low-cost, generic drugs that reduce glucose, blood pressure, and lipids—to be made available to poorer countries, just as HIV and malaria drugs are now.
“We have to act today to ensure that accidents of geography and history do not determine who should live and who should die,” the new IDF president said.
-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)