A diabetes epidemic is the number one health threat in Dubai. We find out more
The threat of a diabetes epidemic is top of the UAE’s list of health concerns right now, with some reports claiming that the disease is responsible for 75 per cent of deaths among nationals. That seems like an incredible figure. Heba Al Shaar, who is working on the Dubai Health Authority’s (DHA) diabetes awareness campaign, says we shouldn’t pay too much heed to big numbers like that. ‘I haven’t seen those figures,’ she tells Time Out. ‘[Concern about diabetes here is such that] sometimes there are rumours, sometimes people exaggerate about it. But it is a serious problem in the UAE.’ So serious that, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UAE is number two in the world for prevalence of diabetes, with 19.5 per cent of the local population suffering from the disease. More worryingly, a UAE Ministry of Health study conducted in 2000 found that approximately half of people with diabetes in the country were unaware that they had it.
This is exactly what makes the DHA’s campaign so important. Since it was launched this July, an impressive 5,000 UAE citizens have been screened as part of an ongoing initiative to provide free diabetes tests at various locations, from malls to health centres to sports clubs to hospitals. The campaign also aims to make more people aware of how the disease develops, encourage lifestyle changes to reduce incidences of diabetes, and provide information on how best to treat it. Dubai will also be hosting the World Diabetes Congress in 2011, presenting the UAE’s case in front of the world’s foremost experts. Al Shaar says the DHA’s campaign means that by the time 2011 rolls around, ‘We will have a story to tell; that’s the whole idea behind the campaign.’ As well as spreading awareness, data collected from the campaign’s screening initiative will help plan the UAE’s next steps to beating diabetes.
It’s not just UAE nationals who are at risk. Dr Maha Taysir Barakat, consultant endocrinologist and medical and research director at Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi, has said that ‘increased prevalence of diabetes among expats in the region as opposed to in their countries of origin indicate that genes are not the only factor… and that environment – lack of exercise with a high fat, high sugar diet – plays a major role as well.’ Al Shaar agrees: ‘Expats are living the same lifestyle as the locals. Lack of exercise, bad eating habits… it affects everyone.’ So we’d all do well to take notice of what the DHA is trying to tell us.
For Al Shaar, the difference this campaign could make to the future of the UAE is nothing short of crucial. While WHO says almost 20 per cent of the population already has diabetes, DHA reckons a further 20 per cent is at risk of developing it. How does Al Shaar envisage the UAE would fare without the help of this campaign? ‘It would be scary,’ she says frankly. ‘But I wouldn’t want to predict something that’s not going to happen, because thankfully we do have this campaign. The government is aware of it, the DHA is aware of it, and we are tackling the problem.’ So this campaign is capable of changing the future of the UAE? ‘I’m sure it will make a big difference, and I’m very optimistic about it,’ she responds. ‘The more people who are aware, the fewer people will have it. So we’re hoping for the best.’
Rita Habash, who heads up the medical division at 3M (a major sponsor of the campaign), says that next year heralds the most important phase of the initiative. In 2010, the campaign will go into schools and educate children about combating diabetes, meaning the next generation will grow up well-informed and, hopefully, healthier as a result (Currently, 17 per cent of UAE nationals aged between six and 16 are obese). As well as teaching kids the need-to-knows, the campaign will introduce better food and drink options in schools in a bid to improve bad diets, with fruit, juices and milk more widely available. The potential impact of this is not insignificant. ‘There’ll be better life expectancy and [better quality of life] for the ageing population,’ Habash explains. ‘We’ll be ageing in a healthier form, versus being in your 50s and 60s and having to treat this and that every day.’ So battling diabetes won’t just give the UAE a better future, but a longer one, too. To be tested for diabetes, contact your local GP. The Dubai Health Authority plans to launch an information hotline in November – we’ll keep you posted.
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Zara Naz Jul 15, 2012 06:27 am
True, eating healthier and exercise has helped me quite a bit. I'm going to al zahra medical centre in dubai. Met the endocrinologist and dietician and they have all been very very pleasant and helpful with regards to advising me on how to deal with my diabetes.
Carl Smith Nov 16, 2011 10:45 pm
I agree with daily excercise routine, eating better, but there is a lot that each person can do to control glucose & still eat pretty much anything you want, I have been controlling my Diabetes fo 9 yrs.. I didn't know until I started doing research that our country has been studying almost the same thing that I have been taking for 19 1/2 yrs., the only reason I found out that I had diabetes was I got food poisoning & could not eat anything for four day's including my compound's. Almost everyone on both sides of my family has type 2 diabetes. My compound's that I mix are over the counter, treated for less than a $1.00a day, & they have fantastic benefit's for heart disease, blood & oxygen flow to all the lower extremities. Our country has been researching something similar to mine for many year's, they are leaving out a couple of key ingredient's,& not getting mix exact. I would love to share what I am doing with pharmaceutical co. but they are much to arrigant. You don't have to be a chemist or Dr. to figure out common sense problem's. I don't even tell my Drs. that I am diabetic when I go in to get my full battery of blood test & they don't know a thing, they just say everything look's fantastic. I can even really go crazy with ice cream, lot's of carb's, run my glucose up to approximately 200mg./dl. to 220mg./dl & without taking anymore compound's, Drink two glasses of water & within 3 to 4 hrs. my glucose will be back down to 100 to 120 mg./dl.
Thank You Carl
Owen Durkin Mar 12, 2011 06:43 pm
...I'd just like to complete the thought that got cut at the bottom of my post:
It's important to learn to think of diabetes as the 'new normal', for you, and not get discouraged or become defeated by the challenges it represents. A diet where fresh food as opposed top processed food is featured, plus regular exercise (of a variety you enjoy) will do wonders, and you'll likely end up feeling more energetic and healthier than you were before being diagnosed.
Owen Durkin Mar 12, 2011 02:32 pm
It certainly sounds like diabetes awareness in Dubai is on the rise. As a former resident, I view the UAE as a very forward thinking, proactive society, and I anticipate they will be leaders in diabetes awareness in the region. There are always healthy choices available to diabetics, but it starts with educating yourself. Counting carbs is tedious at first, but it becomes routine relatively quickly. When counting carbs, Remember to subtract the amount of fibre contained in a product's ingredient list to get an accurate view of the product's impact on blood sugar. It's carbs you count, not sugar. And test often!
New advancements emerge all the time in combating this epidemic, so take heart. Diabetics live long, healthy lives when they take precautions and maintain good habits.
I hope to attend the World Diabetes Congress in Dubai this year, and get a sense first-hand of how Dubai and the rest of the UAE are facing this issue.
Good luck to you,
U-ssolve Wellness Innovations
Its important to begin thinking of diabetes as your 'new normal', and
Robert Howard Oct 12, 2009 01:19 pm
The difficulty is, once you are aware you have diabetes there is no-where for you to shop. We need small health department run shop set ups in Malls (like coffe shops) where people can meet and have healthy food and drinks, with a travelling, visiting dietician, who can blood sugar test people for an hour or two then move to next shop. This way people can meet and ask questions and get tested and records kept. Along with lists of approved foods and where they can be obtained from. Trying to buy sugar and fat free items in UAE is almost impossible. Every food manufaturer adds sugar to everything. We have diet foods of all descriptions to lose weight and all containing sugar, but no health approved food suitable for diabetics. The government needs to talk to food manufacturers to encourage them to produce the food we should be eating.