Though these measures go beyond the health sector, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh stressed that health authorities should act as nodal agencies, working across sectors to find high-impact solutions that also reduce health care costs.
Strengthening primary health care, creating green spaces and outdoor gyms and empowering families are some of the measures listed out by the World Health Organisation to its member countries in South East Asia to tackle rising cases of diabetes. Though these measures go beyond the health sector, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh stressed that health authorities should act as nodal agencies, working across sectors to find high-impact solutions that also reduce health care costs. An estimated 91 million people in the South East Asia region have diabetes and around 49 million, more than half, are unaware of their condition, Singh said.
As part of the region’s primary health care approach in tackling diabetes, families must be empowered to act as they have an important role in creating awareness of the risks of diabetes, Singh suggested. “They are also the first to identify diabetes’ signs, symptoms, risks and complications. When complemented by access to quality primary health care, families are an important asset in the battle against diabetes,” she said. Families can be made aware via social and behavioral change campaigns that highlight their role as a first line of defense. Campaigns should also outline how families can work together to develop healthy habits.
This is particularly important, given that most diabetes cases are type 2, meaning they can be avoided by healthy eating and adequate physical activity, Singh said. The creation of green spaces and outdoor gyms will facilitate weight management. “Third, all families should have access to quality primary health care. Primary-level services must be equipped to detect diabetes, including the high and rising incidence of pre-diabetes. A reliable supply of quality medicines and medical products that can help manage cases should be on hand,” she said.
Each of the interventions outlined in the Colombo Declaration on accelerating the delivery of noncommunicable diseases (NCD) services at primary level, which the region adopted in 2016, must be fully implemented, Singh stressed. Undiagnosed or poorly-controlled type 1 or type 2 diabetes can lead to heart, kidney, nerve or eye damage. It can also lead to premature death, which in the region accounts for just under 50 per cent of all deaths caused by NCDs. Preventing and controlling NCDs is one of the region’s eight flagship priorities.
The region’s member states are taking decisive action. All countries have developed national multi-sectoral NCD action plans and each plan contains specific interventions to tackle diabetes. Their roll-out has occurred alongside member state efforts to strengthen primary-level NCD services, which will also help the region achieve its flagship priority on universal health coverage.