The article was published online Nov. 12, just ahead of World Diabetes Day.
Of the 463 million people with diabetes worldwide in 2019, 80% live in low- and middle-income countries. The condition reduces life expectancy in middle-aged adults by 4-10 years, including increasing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and cancer by up to threefold. It is also a leading cause of nontraumatic amputation and blindness.
Use of evidence-based interventions, if implemented and managed properly, could prevent thousands of deaths globally every day, stressed the commission.
“There is an enormous amount of knowledge that we have amassed over the years. We need good preventive care and we need to ensure that diabetes patients, once diagnosed, have good continuous care. There is an urgent need for decision-makers, policymakers, and payers to make things happen,” the leader of the multidisciplinary commission, Juliana C.N. Chan, MBChB, MD, said in an interview.
“COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of individuals with diabetes,” said Dr. Chan, of the Hong Kong Institute of Diabetes and Obesity. “We should use the pandemic as an opportunity to implement solutions.”
Physician education key, trickling down to field workers and patients
First on the agenda, she says, should be “physician education. There are many primary care providers and internal medicine physicians whose knowledge needs to be updated.”
“Then doctors need to transfer this information to other people, such as nurses and community field workers. We cannot just rely on doctors; we need to train nonmedics” so that knowledge about how to prevent, treat, and manage diabetes long term is communicated right down the health care chain, she explained.
“They need to know how to look at people’s eyes and feet, how to do blood and urine tests, and how to collect data. Then they need to educate patients on what they should be doing, on how to practice self-care,” she added.
“We need to change our way of thinking, redesign clinic flow and how you build a team. And those care teams need to know how to collect data, and then use that data to monitor patients and to stratify individual risk, to ensure that what has been said has been done, as well as to inform practice and policies” through, for example, the establishment of diabetes registers.
The focus needs to be on “lifelong integrated care, the right treatment at the right time,” she emphasized. History-taking, clinical and laboratory assessments, as well as monitoring of macrovascular and microvascular complications, comorbidities, and medications, are all key.
Just a few simple things, if properly implemented, could make a big difference, Dr. Chan stressed.
For example, implementing a structured lifestyle intervention and use of metformin can each prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance by 30%-50%, and sustained weight reduction in patients with obesity by 15 kg (33 lb) or more can induce remission of type 2 diabetes for up to 2 years.
And there are plenty of medications that are “very affordable even in low- and middle-income countries” to treat diabetes and associated risk factors, including metformin, “statins, and RAS inhibitors,” she noted.
For instance, the 10 low- and middle-income countries with the greatest burden of diabetes (China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Thailand) account for 217 million cases of type 2 diabetes, representing nearly 50% of all diabetes cases.
The commission estimated that 3.2 million of these individuals would die in 3 years if not treated, with 1.3 million of these deaths due to cardiovascular disease.
By reducing hemoglobin A1c, blood pressure, and LDL-cholesterol through achieving a diagnosis rate of 50%, ensuring access to essential medicines in at least 70% of patients, and with a support system to sustain reductions in these risk factors over 3 years, up to 800,000 premature deaths could be avoided.