The Need to Work Together to Curb Diabetes

Joao Nabais IDF Europe President (2)Today’s guest blog comes from João Manuel Valente Nabais, President, IDF Europe. 

In Europe, 52 million people live with diabetes – around 8% of the adult population in the region. In 20 years’ time, estimates indicate that more than one in ten adults in Europe will have diabetes, if nothing is done to reverse the epidemic. Worryingly, one in three adults with diabetes is undiagnosed in Europe, meaning that many people already have at least one complication by the time they are diagnosed.

Diabetes social and economic costs to society are high and escalating. Tackling this epidemic will require coordinated efforts to develop and implement comprehensive policies to improve prevention and early diagnosis, ensure access to quality diabetes care but also support research for finding new and more effective treatments.

To highlight the urgent need to act, we - the International Diabetes Federation Europe (IDF Europe), and together with our partners from the European Coalition for Diabetes, are publishing today the 4th edition of Diabetes in Europe: Policy Puzzle, a pan-European audit which documents the evolution of diabetes policies in Europe. Our survey highlights that, although Europe is making progress, it is simply too slow and too limited to stem the tide of diabetes.

On the positive side, 30 European countries out of 47 now have adopted a national plan covering diabetes, and ten more have announced such a plan for the near future. This clearly shows that there is political will to reverse the diabetes epidemic. However, implementation and monitoring appear to be major weaknesses of these plans. The Czech Republic is the only country in the region that includes a strong monitoring and evaluation system in its national plan. It is also the only country to assess the cost-effectiveness of the measures within its plan.

Needless to say that without proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation, we will not be able to determine what works and what does not work, and what needs to be improved. We simply cannot afford this in time of economic hardship, and when policy makers increasingly call for sustainable healthcare systems.

We would also like to highlight alarming findings regarding one key component of diabetes care: education. Education empowers people with diabetes and allows them to take informed decision on how to properly manage their condition on a daily basis. Despite clear efforts to provide some level of education to people with diabetes, 75% of European countries still do not recommend continuous education for people living with this condition. We have also identified that too few family members of those diagnosed with diabetes receive education. Why is this a problem? Because family members are the ones who support people with diabetes and help them cope with daily challenges, especially when it comes to children.

As we are celebrating World Diabetes Day all around the world, these findings, and the rising number of people with diabetes in Europe and beyond, remind us that inaction is clearly not an option. We have the political declarations, we have the will and we have the commitment. What we now need is to see this translated into concrete action on the ground. By this we mean being able to provide support to a little boy who has just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and to his family about how to manage his condition, to help an elderly person who has eye problems because of diabetes but who does not have access to regular screening services, and to inform a mother with diabetes about how it could affect her unborn child.

Individuals like these are the ones who ultimately benefit from comprehensive, properly implemented policies for diabetes care and prevention. We believe that it is only through a collective response involving all relevant stakeholders at European, national, regional and local levels that we will be able to develop and implement these policies, and protect the future of millions of citizens in Europe and beyond.