Sir Michael Hirst, President, International, Diabetes Federation

Question: What is the main challenge of diabetes, and why does it require urgent action?

Answer: The number of people with the condition is increasing. We need to take action to lessen the health, social, economic and developmental impacts in countries worldwide, says Sir Michael Hirst, President of the International Diabetes Federation.


Diabetes: The next global health crisis?

Globally, 382 million people are living with diabetes (Type 1 or 2), a figure that is estimated to rise to 592 million by 2035. A further 450 million will be at risk of developing the condition. Of the over one billion individuals with or at risk of diabetes, the majority will be working-age people in developing countries. The condition is therefore not just a health problem, but also a development issue holding back progress in less fortunate areas. Governments around the world need to become aware of the scale of the diabetes challenge and take action – now.


Diabetes support and complication prevention

To help the process, IDF is working with the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and charities like Diabetes UK in highlighting the social and economic burden of diabetes, and advocating essential government interventions in this area. If not well controlled, the condition can cause heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

Governments around the world need to become aware of the scale of the diabetes challenge and take action – now

These not only have a severe impact on patients, lowering quality of life and increasing mortality (every six seconds somebody dies worldwide from the complications of diabetes, making the condition a bigger killer than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV put together), but also on the health service budget.

It is important to spread the message that Type 2 diabetes and its complications are in fact highly preventable and manageable, if people are encouraged and supported to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

Ensuring access to blood glucose monitoring and medicines globally is also important. In the Western world, technological advances and improved access to health services, treatment, support and education have significantly improved the management of diabetes and patient quality of life.


Work to be done

In developing countries, however, people with the condition still have limited or no access to insulin and basic diabetes care. Through the ‘Life for a Child’ programme, IDF is providing insulin to thousands of children who cannot afford it. Without this kind of help, those children would simply die. So, as long as there is any child in the world who cannot access to insulin, our work is not finished.