ABU DHABI// About 50 per cent of diabetes sufferers in the country do not know they have the disease, a leading expert said as his hospital launched a free testing programme. It is estimated that one person in five in the country is diabetic, the second highest rate in the world. This would rise to two in five if the figures for undiagnosed patients are correct.
Dr Salem Beshyah, who works at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) in Abu Dhabi, said it was essential for people to be tested so they could begin changing their lifestyle and managing the disease as soon as possible. The SKMC Diabetes Centre is offering free blood sugar tests to the public this week, between 8am and 9.30am. Dr Beshyah said the aim was to help identify Type 2 diabetes, which often shows no symptoms at the start.
"The problem is that 50 per cent of the people who have diabetes will have no symptoms so will not know they are diabetic. For every person who knows, there is another person who does not. We are following a similar model to Britain where they wanted to 'find the missing million'," he said. At its present growth rate, the disease is expected to cost Dh10 billion (US$2.7bn) a year to treat by 2020.
Dr Beshyah estimated the centre would have 100 to 150 people a day coming in for the free tests. If a test result is negative, the person will receive a certificate for his or her doctor's files. If positive, the patient will be offered further tests or information. Dr Beshyah said it was difficult to judge how many people in the country were undiagnosed because the last study was some time ago. "There is a high risk here, even for expatriates. We believe it is three times higher than in their country of origin because of a number of factors," he said.
Doctors warn that sufferers risk severe complications such as amputation if they do not get proper treatment. Long-term complications include diabetic foot, in which a patient loses feeling in his or her foot and often develops ulcers or infection. Patients suffering arterial abnormalities and diabetic neuropathy, a nerve disorder, suffer delayed wound healing which means infection and gangrene is relatively common.
Dr Abdul Karim al Fahim, consultant and chief of general surgery service at Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi, said patients were often unaware how wide and varied the complications could be. "Diabetic foot is a nervous, sensory and blood vessel problem," he said. "Some of them, the majority usually, will have some level of sensory loss and therefore will not realise they may have hurt their feet by washing in hot water or getting pedicures, which is common here.
"The worst case scenario is amputation. Worldwide this happens to a large number of people, because of the large number of people who are unaware they have diabetes." email@example.com