x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Diabetes affecting one in four Emiratis, health screenings show

Officials say one in nine nationals is clinically obese and UAE faces 'huge problem' with second-highest Type 2 diabetes rate in world.

ABU DHABI// Nearly a third of Emiratis in Abu Dhabi are overweight and nearly one in four shows evidence of having diabetes, health screening figures show. More than a third of the overweight are clinically obese, according to new data., while more than one in six of UAE nationals were also found to have high blood pressure and almost a quarter of men admitted to smoking.  Health officials said the figures, gathered during screenings required for Emiratis aged between 18 and 75 to receive a card for free health care, were unexpectedly high.

The preliminary findings, disclosed yesterday at the 1st International Abu Dhabi Diabetes Congress, highlight the threat of a surge in the number of diabetics in the UAE, which already has the second-highest rates of diabetes in the world. Dr Khaled al Jaberi, chief of endocrinology at Mafraq Hospital, said: '"It shows we really have a huge problem within UAE with diabetes and the pre-diabetes stage. It will really need to be managed in a more aggressive manner." The results back up previous studies, which found one in five Emiratis has diabetes. By 2025, diabetes is expected to affect a quarter of the population.

Zaid Al Siksek, the CEO for Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, speaking at the Abu Dhabi Diabetes Congress, said: "Whether it be a financial burden, reduced quality of life, disability in our young population, loss of productivity in our workforce and raising mortality from cardiovascular or renal disease." The UAE has the second-highest rate of Type 2 diabetes in the world behind Nauru, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific.  Sedentary jobs and tasks are putting more people at risk of diabetes, experts say since obesity is a leading factor in type 2 diabetes, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

While genetics may play a role in whether a person develops the disease, lifestyle factors, such as diet, can determine whether a person develops the disease. Authorities in Abu Dhabi expect a new screening programme for UAE nationals will see more people benefitting from early intervention. Preliminary data gathered through the Weqaya programme, which includes screens height, weight, blood pressure and glucose and cholesterol checks for emiratis aged 18 to 75, revealed that 34 per cent of Emirati adults are overweight. Of those, 36 per cent are obese. Meanwhile, 17 per cent have high blood pressure and 23 per cent admit to smoking. 

The new figures were revealed days after the head of the Emirates Diabetes Society, Dr Abdulrazzaq Ali al Madani, said early detection was urgently needed to stem the rise of diabetes rates.  Dr al Jaberi said "The size of the problem shows that whatever we do is not enough. Education, I think is needed because people don't go for check ups. "Diabetes will start in a very slow way so people will not have the clear symptoms and studies show that at that time people are still at risk of complications so by the time they get the diagnosis they are already at risk."

While the number of people found at risk of diabetes through the screenings were higher than expected, according to a HAAD official, the new system means that people identified as at risk of getting diabetes are contacted directly. Health care providers are prepared to provide care to those who need it, said Omniyat al Hajeri, manager of health professionals licensing and health regulation at HAAD. "Because the numbers were even higher than what were expected we have private sector providers that are now involved with the Weqaya programme, especially in the field of diabetes," Ms al Hajeri said. "Anyone who needs direct intervention receives a phone call asking them to communicate with healthcare providers." The treatment of people with diabetes could cost the UAE in excess of Dh440 million (US$120m) a year, A researcher at UAE University predicts. A study in the United States estimated that the disease costs that nation US$174 billion ayear.  

Other countries in the Middle East and North Africa are facing challenges similar to the UAE, the conference heard. About 26 million people have diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa region, a figure expected to rise to more than 51 million by 2030. On Tuesday, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City will host a public lecture on obesity. People attending will have the chance to have questions answered after a presentation, intended to raise awareness about the danger of obesity.

mchung@thenational.ae