KARACHI: More than three-quarters of people living with diabetes in Pakistan, or around 79 per cent, only find out they have the chronic disease after developing complications, says a global study released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) on the eve of the World Diabetes Day on Monday.
According to experts, currently more than 33 million people are living with diabetes in Pakistan, home to the highest number of adult population affected by the chronic disease in the world.
Under the study, IDF researchers collected data from people living with diabetes across Africa, Asia, Europe and South America to understand the level of awareness and impact of diabetes-related complications.
The survey reveals that almost all (97 per cent) of those surveyed in Pakistan had experienced one or more diabetes complications, with over a quarter (26 per cent) having experienced heart disease as one of them.
According to the study, diabetes-related complications can be serious and, in some cases, life-threatening. They include damage to the heart, eyes, kidneys and feet.
“The risk of complications places significant stress on people living with diabetes as more than two-fifths (43 per cent) of respondents in Pakistan say they worry most days about developing diabetes-related complications,” it says.
The risk of complications, it emphasises, could be significantly reduced through early detection, timely treatment and informed self-care.
When asked about preventing their complications, nine in 10 respondents (94 per cent) in Pakistan believed they could have done more while four-fifths (83 per cent) thought their healthcare provider could have done more.
Commenting on the research findings, Prof Abdul Basit, director of the Baqai Institute of Diabetology & Endocrinology, said: “Complications are affecting the lives of too many people living with diabetes in Pakistan. More needs to be done to improve diabetes awareness and provide education to support the early detection and management of complications. What we have learned offers a stark reminder that diabetes often goes undetected until one or more complications have occurred.”
He underscored the need for getting the right information and care that could significantly reduce the risk of complications.
Furthermore, Prof Basit shared, there were several steps that people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes could take to delay or prevent the onset of the condition altogether. “The key is to know your level of risk, know what you should be looking for and know how to respond.”
According to the IDF, there are several risk factors that increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. These include positive family history, weight, age, ethnicity, inactivity, and diabetes during pregnancy, some of which can be reduced through healthy eating habits and increased physical activity.
Improving understanding and awareness of the risk factors is therefore important to support prevention, early diagnosis and timely treatment.
Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for over 90 per cent of all cases of diabetes, often develops silently, with symptoms that may go unnoticed. As a result, many people with the condition, more than 50 per cent in some countries, are not diagnosed and, as the research suggests, complications are already present when diabetes is diagnosed.
Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of diabetes-related complications in Pakistan, over a third (34 per cent) of those living with diabetes in the country didn’t receive information about complications at the point of diagnosis. The most common complications experienced in Pakistan were foot (55 per cent), eye (57 per cent), and oral health (53 per cent) problems.
“For those without access to the right support, diabetes and its complications can seriously impact day-to-day life and even become life-threatening. That is why the IDF is committed to improving awareness of how best to manage the condition, helping people with diabetes to understand their risk and improving access to the best available care,” Prof Basit said.
Healthcare professionals must be equipped with the knowledge and resources to diagnose diabetes early and provide appropriate support, he added.
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2023