There are numerous risk factors relating to diabetes. Some of them come from our family history and genetics and so are always with us, but a major risk factor is obesity. So, in a country where every corner is home to at least one fast food restaurant and the few pavements that exist are seen as just another place to park, is it any wonder that Qatar has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world and the highest in the GCC?
The threats of diabetes and obesity are reaching epidemic proportions in the Gulf region, with latest prevalence rates for both standing at 27 per cent, compared with four per cent in Britain and 6.7 per cent in the US. Currently, it is estimated that 285 million people worldwide are living with diabetes, but the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) predicts that this figure will exceed 483 million within the next 20 years.
Diabetes is a chronic disease affecting all types of society including children and is one of the world’s biggest killers. It is a condition which people get when they have a high blood sugar (glucose) level, either because the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or because body cells don’t properly respond to the insulin that is produced.
Insulin is produced in the pancreas and enables body cells to absorb glucose, to turn into energy. If the body cells do not absorb the glucose, it accumulates in the blood (hyperglycemia), leading to vascular, nerve, and other complications such as heart disease, eye and kidney disease. The decrease of blood flow can also have an effect on the body.
It is generally thought that the dramatic changes that have taken place in the country since the 1980s, due mainly to the rapid and remarkable development of the petrochemical industry, have had an enormous impact on the rise in the number of cases of diabetes in Qatar. The lifestyle of the population has changed drastically with the more Westernised, less physically active way of life being held responsible for higher levels of obesity and an increase in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
Speaking at a seminar organised by the Supreme Council of Health to mark World Health Day 2010 (WHD) last month, Dr Hashim Al Sayed, consultant in family medicine, said that bad eating habits and poor diets remain the major contributors to the prevalence of diabetes and obesity in the region. ‘It has been found that more people in the Gulf region are ignoring healthy meals and embracing Western food, which is high in (empty) calories: oil, fat and sugar, and mainly carbohydrates with no minerals, vitamins and less fibre.’ Coupled with this is a general lack of exercise amongst the population.
A study presented at the ‘Secondary Prevention in Diabetes’ conference held in Doha a few weeks ago found that one in three Qatari adults either has diabetes or glucose intolerance, whilst a recent YouGovSiraj survey found that nine per cent of respondents in Doha had diabetes and a whopping 52 per cent know someone who is diabetic. More people in Qatar die of diabetes-related illnesses than any other medical ailment, and the frighteningly high numbers of people being diagnosed here has prompted huge amounts of in-depth research and investigation into why levels of this particular condition are on the rise.
So, with the revelation of these shocking and somewhat disturbing statistics, what is actually being done to deal with the situation? Thankfully, there is something. Founded in 1995, the Qatar Diabetes Association (QDA) points out that a person dies of diabetes every 10 seconds and, in those same 10 seconds, two people are diagnosed with the condition. It is with this in mind that the organisation was, as clearly laid out by its mission statement, set up: ‘The QDA is here to help people with diabetes and those who are at risk of developing it by providing innovative patient care, diabetes education and related services with the hope of improving the overall quality of life for those who are affected.’
The QDA, which supports the local health system and is part of Qatar Foundation, is dedicated to providing useful and up to date information with the aim of helping patients to understand the reality of diabetes. It raises awareness of diabetes and offers advice on how to make the lifestyle adaptations necessary to deal with the condition, as well as promoting the correct choices that should be taken to prevent becoming another statistic in the future.
So, little steps are evidently being taken in the right direction but, with such a shocking reality and terrifying predictions, Qatar residents need to address the situation sooner rather than later and take matters into their own hands. It is up to individuals to make full use of the support available to them, as being known as the country with the highest rate of diabetes in the GCC is certainly one title they don’t want to hang on to.
For more information on the Qatar Diabetes Association, visit the website at www.qda.org.qa or call 444 7481