November 14 is the day dedicated to raising more diabetes awareness. World Diabetes Day was created in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organisation in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat posed by diabetes. It became an official United Nations Day in 2006 with the passage of United Nation Resolution 61/225. It is specifically marked on November 14 as it coincides with the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922.

This year’s event is even more significant since the global diabetes community will soon be celebrating the centenary since when insulin was discovered. No doubt that this was a landmark breakthrough in the history of medicine that saved the lives of so many people across the globe.

World Diabetes Day is the world’s largest diabetes awareness campaign reaching a global audience of over one billion people in more than 160 countries. The campaign draws attention to issues of paramount importance to the diabetes world and keeps diabetes firmly in the public and political spotlight.

The campaign is represented by a blue circle logo that was adopted in 2007 after the passage of the UN resolution on diabetes. The blue circle is the global symbol for diabetes awareness. It signifies the unity of the global diabetes community in response to the diabetes epidemic.

The theme for 2021 to 2023 is ‘Access to diabetes care’.

Millions of people with diabetes around the world do not have access to diabetes care. People with diabetes require ongoing care and support to manage their condition and avoid complications. We cannot wait any longer for medicine, technologies, support and care to be made available to all people with diabetes that require them, and for governments to increase investment in diabetes care and prevention.

We need to take on the challenge. Undoubtedly, fundamental components of diabetes care include access to insulin, access to oral medicines, access to self-monitoring, access to education and psychological support, and access to healthy food and a safe place to exercise.

The centenary of the discovery of insulin presents a unique opportunity to bring about meaningful change for the more than 460 million people living with diabetes and the millions more at risk.

The global prevalence of diabetes has reached 10.5 per cent, with almost half (44.7 per cent) of adults undiagnosed

Diabetes is a long-term chronic condition often referred to as the ‘silent killer’. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has released new figures showing that 537 million adults are now living with diabetes worldwide – a rise of 16 per cent (74 million) since the previous IDF estimates in 2019. Unfortunately, these new findings highlight the alarming growth in the prevalence of diabetes around the world.

The new figures are taken from the upcoming 10th edition of the IDF Diabetes Atlas which will be published on December 6. The latest IDF Diabetes Atlas reports that the global prevalence of diabetes has reached 10.5 per cent, with almost half (44.7 per cent) of adults undiagnosed. IDF projections show that by 2045, 783 million adults will be living with diabetes – or one in eight adults. This would be an increase of 46 per cent, more than double the estimated population growth (20 per cent) over the same period.

In Malta, it is also very important that all persons living with diabetes have access to the more innovative treatments, medications and devices that will effectively help in managing one’s diabetes. The project on Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) devices embarked by the health authorities during the past months was a huge success. In fact, it was confirmed by the authorities in the last budget that this will be extended for persons living with type 1 diabetes up to the age of 21 years.

The government’s intention is to introduce this highly important device for all persons living with type 1 diabetes in 2023, as confirmed by Health Minister Chris Fearne in reply to a parliamentary question by Claudette Buttigieg.

However, 2023 is a long time away and persons living with diabetes over the age of 21 years wishing to avail themselves of such a device will still have to finance a CGM from their own pocket until such time that it is fully reimbursed. This financial commitment is huge and indeed challenging – on average it would cost a person a minimum of €150 per month, depending on the CGM device. There are persons who cannot afford such a device and are, therefore, being deprived of this important and innovative equipment to manage and better control their diabetes.

The introduction of more innovative treatments, medications and devices should be seen by the health authorities as a long-term investment which would see persons living with diabetes manage their condition more effectively. And in doing so, this will surely reduce the number of hospitalisations and the related expenses due to diabetes complications such as damage to the large blood vessels of the heart, brain and legs, and damage to the small blood vessels, causing problems in the eyes, kidneys and feet.

I echo the wise words of professor Andrew Boulton, president of the IDF who recently described diabetes as “a pandemic of unprecedented magnitude”. This reinforces the need for governments to continue investing in diabetes research; in constantly promoting diabetes care offering the best treatments and care; and to working wholeheartedly in favour of the persons living with this long-term condition. 

As a diabetes community, we too need to continue working hard to ensure that persons living with diabetes get the best access to treatment and medical care. This is a right of every person living with diabetes to ensure that their health and well-being are safeguarded at all times.

Chris J. Delicata is president of the Maltese Diabetes Association.

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