Almost 3.2 million people die of diabetes across the world every year. Though this is much more than people dying of AIDS, the funds allocated to combat diabetes are abysmally low.
It is also estimated that there are 30 to 33 million diabetics in India now, and every fourth diabetic in the world today is an Indian.
Indians are genetically more susceptible to diabetes and the World Health Organisation predicts the number of diabetics in India would go up to 40 million by 2010 and 74 million by 2025.
So, it was but natural that WHO chose India to host the fourth World Congress on prevention of diabetes and its complications.
WHO has also issued a warning -- India is going to be the diabetes capital of the world.
The first congress on diabetes was held in Copenhagen, followed by Rome and Hong Kong. The just concluded Indian Congress in Chennai was the largest such conference ever held anywhere in the world: 1200 delegates from 40 countries participated and made 177 presentations.
The congress is jointly organised by WHO, the Diabetes Research Centre and the MV Hospital for Diabetes in Chennai, the International Diabetes Federation, Belgium and the Centre for Disease control, Atlanta.
Dr. Nigel Unwin, medical officer, diabetes unit, WHO, said a mere 0.1 per cent of the $ 2.9 million allocated to the health sector was passed on to non-communicable diseases like diabetes. "Most of the aid is directed to HIV/AIDS. There will be a steep increase in the number of people affected by diabetes and it will be more in developing countries."
Unwin added that non-communicable diseases posed greater threat to the economic development of developing nations as such diseases among adults of working age led to an increased burden on healthcare of families. This in turn will result on lower productivity.
Inaugurating the Congress, the Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramdoss announced some measures from the Government to tackle and prevent diabetes among Indians. "As diabetes is not a rich man's disease anymore, the government is concerned," he said.
He said unless India confronted the epidemic on a priority basis, it would have an adverse effect on the health and economy of the nation. "We are going to have a huge problem ahead of us. I would like to have all the research done on diabetes to save millions of people in India and across the globe," he said.
National Program: Anbumani said the need was to have a huge awareness campaign. He said the government of India would launch a national awareness campaign on diabetes, cardio vascular diseases and stroke this year. The planning commission has also given an "in-principle approval for the program to start the campaign in both the urban and rural areas."
Public Health schools in India: Anbumani confessed that though the government had been concentrating on the curative aspects of the disease till now, nothing has been done to prevent it.
He said the government would start public health schools of international repute across the country. The first ones would be started in Delhi and Chennai.
"These schools will be of international standards, and will have regular interactions with Harvard, Hopkins and a few schools in the UK so that we can have a curriculum more suited to India. Faculty from across the globe will visit these schools to impart knowledge on public health issues," he said.
The minister also said Indian medical systems like ayurveda needed to be popularised and scientifically tested.
Another area that needed more research was on stem chord cells, Anbumani said, adding it was high time India had public banks of stem cells.
Change in lifestyle can prevent diabetes: For the first time, a study conducted in India by the Diabetic Research Centre team lead by Dr.A. Ramachandran in Chennai, has found that a change in lifestyle could prevent diabetics. A change in lifestyle meant regular exercise and proper diet as the study found that a sedentary lifestyle, stress and improper food habits accentuate the chances of contracting diabetes.
WHO launches awareness program: At the end of the World Congress, WHO and the International Diabetic Federation jointly launched an aggressive awareness campaign to stop the increase in the incidence of diabetes. WHO also decided to have India and Africa as sentinel sites for the campaign based on the `Diabetic Action Now' programme.