x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Schools teach dangers of diabetes

Pupils at the city's largest government schools have been given lessons on the dangers of diabetes.

Huda Ezzeddin Mustafa, standing right, gives a presentation on diabetes prevention at Al Dana School for girls.
Huda Ezzeddin Mustafa, standing right, gives a presentation on diabetes prevention at Al Dana School for girls.

ABU DHABI // Pupils at the city's largest government schools have been given lessons on the dangers of diabetes. Daman, the national insurance company, also issued estimates indicating that by 2020, the cost of diabetes treatment would reach Dh10 billion (US$2.7bn). The UAE has the world's second highest rate of diabetes after Nauru in the South Pacific, and the highest in the region.

A team of experts from the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Diabetes Centre in conjunction with the emirate's Schools Health Programme, yesterday gave the 636 pupils at Al Dana girls school a presentation on the dangers of diabetes. Al Dana was the first of four schools the team will be visiting leading up to World Diabetes Day on Friday. Between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of Emiratis have diabetes, according to Dr Ammar Abbas from the SKMC Diabetes Centre.

Dr Abbas said the actual rate could be twice that if patients with positive glucose tolerance test were included in the total, since they were likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the near future. Type 1 diabetes affects young people and requires insulin for treatment, while type 2 is hereditary and linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity, diet and lack of exercise. The pupils, from grades six to nine, were urged to get their families regularly checked for the disease.

The educators have been trying reach a younger audience to make the issue easy to understand for the children, many of whom eat junk food regularly and do little exercise. When the speaker, Dr Huda Ezzeddin Mustafa, asked the children how many times a week they should eat McDonald's, many said five or 10 times. They were also told of the link between obesity and type 2 diabetes, and that 75 per cent of Emiratis were overweight.

When they were asked who eats fruit and salad every day, only half raised their hands. During the presentation the pupils were shown a series of disturbing images highlighting the effects of diabetes, from a diseased heart, to blinded patients and seriously infected limbs. "In spite of the prevalence of diabetes here in the UAE, it's very rare that children know what it is unless they have someone very close to them suffering with the disease," Dr Abbas said.

An estimated 11 per cent of people in the Emirates aged 20-39 are "pre-diabetic", which means unless they make significant lifestyle changes they will develop diabetes, said Prof Andrew Morris, professor of diabetic medicine at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Prof Morris, visiting the Imperial College of London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi for World Diabetes Day, noted that Nauru's sudden economic boom as a result of phosphate mining was accompanied by sharp increases in diabetes levels.

He added that the cost of treating the problem had a "crippling effect" on that country's economy. The largest cost of diabetes is not the treatment of the disease, but treatment of its related complications. Daman's estimate of Dh10bn was reached by multiplying the average cost of treatment, by the number of patients, by the inflation rate. Population growth was not taken into account. On Monday, Daman said the cost would decrease if the population was willing to make lifestyle changes, if diabetes was treated according to national guidelines and if certain patient programmes were implemented.

Dr Alfons Grabosch, a consultant with Daman, estimated the cost of treating diabetes this year at Dh45 million, although the company was unable to confirm an exact amount. Dr Cother Hajat, the head of public health programmes at Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (HAAD), said recent studies had shown more than half of UAE nationals aged 30-64 had diabetes or were likely to develop it. Dr Hajat said half of the population with diabetes were undiagnosed and another 24 per cent were at risk of developing it.

HAAD has been developing a primary prevention programme. The authority is also developing a registry to track people with diabetes and those likely to contract it. mswan@thenational.ae