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Treating diabetes costs Abu Dhabi Dh3.7bn a year, says doctor

A doctor for Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) says the financial burden can be lifted only through a combination of education, awareness and promoting a healthy lifestyle from an early age.

ABU DHABI // Diabetes treatment is costing the emirate US$1 billion a year (Dh3.7bn), a Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) doctor said yesterday. She suggested the financial burden can be lifted only through a combination of education, awareness and promoting a healthy lifestyle from an early age. Speaking at the first day of the Abu Dhabi Medical Congress, Dr Cother Hajat, section head of the public health programmes in the authority's public health and policy department, said the costs were compounded when losses for productivity and quality of life were considered.

She highlighted the fact that the country has the world's second highest rate of diabetes - about 20 per cent of the population. "The Middle East region and the UAE in particular has the world's highest prevalence rate of diabetes, which places a huge burden on our health care and financial systems, not to mention negatively impacting our predominantly young population," she said. "By 2025, at least a third of the UAE's population, will be living with diabetes, meaning that public health intervention is crucial."

That intervention, said Dr Hajat, had to focus on educating the public about the danger of unhealthy diets and physical inactivity. She emphasised that "lifestyle interventions are more cost-effective than drug interventions". She called for guidelines and standards to be drawn up and used across all health care facilities, as care varies from emirate to emirate. Dr Richard Nabhan, a consultant physician, cardiologist and diabetologist at Dar al Shifaa Hospital, agreed not enough was being done to prevent the disease.

"We are not looking at the problem in depth," he said. "Diabetes prevalence has to be multi-addressed, and instead of wasting time rehashing statistics and wasting time and money, start working on programmes from the heart." He said that by educating children at the primary school level, unhealthy habits could be curbed from the onset. "Explain the food pyramid model to children, make them run, frighten the overweight kids into losing weight if you have to," he said.

"Make hamburgers, which are truly mass destruction weapons, cost Dh100 instead of Dh5, and make presidents point out that diabetes kills millions of people more each year than terrorism." He suggested more heavy handed tactics, including explaining how cardiovascular disease - also associated with obesity - leads to one death per minute and diabetes-related amputations occur every 30 seconds around the world.

People needed to know about the horror of the disease, said Dr Nabhan. "We need to start seriously but we don't seem to know where to start and so we're not doing anything but talking." @Email:hkhalaf@thenational.ae

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