PAHO/WHO raises alarm about diabetes in region

PAHO/WHO raises alarm about diabetes in region

Thursday, November 20, 2014

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APPROXIMATELY 61 million people in the Americas have diabetes, and half of all adults are overweight or obese, which together with physical inactivity is a major risk factor for the disease.

The Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), which released the figures last Friday, said that diabetes is associated with more than 500,000 deaths each year in the region while a third of people with type 2 diabetes have not been diagnosed, increasing their risk of serious complications.

The figures were released by the international bodies as the world marked Diabetes Day, which this year was centred on promoting healthy lifestyles and diabetes prevention.

"Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, can be prevented," said Alberto Barcelo, PAHO/WHO regional advisor on diabetes. "But there is limited public awareness of how to prevent diabetes."

Prevention measures include achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, consuming a healthy diet that includes three to five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, limiting consumption of sugar and saturated fats, engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week, and avoiding smoking, which increases the risk of cardiovascular and other diseases.

"On World Diabetes Day, we are urging people to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent or control diabetes," said Barcelo. Having supportive environments that facilitate healthy lifestyles is also important, including affordable access to healthy foods and safe recreational spaces.

Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to health complications including foot ulcers, amputation of the lower limbs, blindness, and kidney failure. Uncontrolled diabetes also increases the risk of premature death from heart disease and stroke. In addition, people with diabetes are at greater risk of developing tuberculosis, especially those with poor glycemic control.

The risk of complications can be reduced if people with diabetes adopt healthy lifestyles and take medications as prescribed by their doctors. To ensure treatment for all people with diabetes, health care services need to be universally accessible, patient-centered and integrated into primary health care.

PAHO/WHO is working with its member states and partner organisations to halt the rise of diabetes and to increase access to comprehensive and quality health care for people who have the disease. PAHO/WHO leads communication workshops for health professionals and people with diabetes, provides training for health providers in an integrated model of chronic care that is focused on patient needs and supported by evidence-based guidelines and protocols. PAHO/WHO's Strategic Fund for Essential Medicines helps countries procure diabetes medications.

The health body also works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their populations. Founded in 1902, it is the world's oldest international public health organisation. It serves as WHO's regional office for the Americas and is the specialised health agency of the inter-American system.

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