Khaleej Times: A major stakeholder in fighting diabetes

Khaleej Times: A major stakeholder in fighting diabetes

Year after year we are seeing an alarming increase in the number of people getting obese and contracting chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes. In fact, as per a rather interesting report released recently by a UK-based medical journal, The Lancet, it is for the first time since modern institutions started collating health-related data that the world has more obese people than malnourished.

The condition is worrisome, particularly in the UAE where 19 per cent of the population, or over a million people, is diabetic. Globally, the number of diabetic patients has quadrupled in the last four decades. Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 422 million people are known to be living with the disease, and by 2040, the figure would rise to 642 million. Industry experts also suggest that there are 318 million more people who are pre-diabetic, and their population is expected to grow to 481 million by 2040.

Worrisome statistics

The latest data on the disease reveals that the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the Middle East, has the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world affecting 43 million people, with nearly a million of those in the UAE.

The pace of progression of the disease is particularly alarming. In 1980, only 6 per cent of the region's population was affected with the disease, whereas in 2014 almost 14 per cent population is learnt to be living a diabetic life. This is mostly because of the rising Type 2 diabetes rates, which in turn are largely the result of excess body weight, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that the ageing population and rising levels of obesity means diabetes is becoming a "defining issue for the global public health."

The organisation has called for expanding health-promoting environments to reduce diabetes risk factors and strengthening national efforts. It has also declared 2016 as the year to 'Beat Diabetes'.

A clarion call

In the UAE, diabetes accounted for three per cent of all deaths as per the recent WHO figures. A deeper analysis shows the men are more at risk than women. The study attributes 410 deaths in men aged between 30 and 69 years, and 110 deaths in women due to high blood glucose.

Consequently, the Ministry of Health and Prevention in the UAE has launched many awareness programmes and developed a National Diabetes Control Committee to rein in the rising numbers.

The UAE plans to reduce the incidence of diabetes from 19 per cent of the population to 16 per cent in 2021, and this is why diabetes management centres play a big role.

The Arabian Healthcare Group (AHG), a premium healthcare management and consulting firm, has embarked on a massive plan to set up a chain of world-class comprehensive speciality diabetes care - RAK Diabetes Centers across the UAE in each of the seven emirates by 2020. In its first phase, the healthcare behemoth has launched two state-of-the-art diabetes centres in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. These stand-alone speciality centers will be a one-stop shop for diabetes prevention, care and management, offering a wide range of services.

"Arabian Healthcare Group aims to be a leader in all aspects of diabetes care including prevention, management and prevention of complications. The RAK Diabetes Center in Dubai will be our first speciality centre in the emirate. As per industry analysis, there is an actual demand-supply gap of endocrinologists sessions, which means a deficit in the Endocrinology speciality in the UAE, especially in Dubai. Our commitment towards residents of the UAE to prevent diabetes and decrease the demand-supply gap in Endocrinologists has made AHG target this illness in all its dimensions," says Dr Raza Siddiqui, CEO, Arabian Healthcare Group.

The diabetes centres aim to offer comprehensive diabetes care by providing access to a multidisciplinary team including cardiologists, ophthalmologists, nephrologists, endocrinologists, diabetes educator, dietician, obesity management, podiatrist as well as clinical testing all under one roof.

"Considering that the epidemic requires special focus, AHG plans to have at least one diabetes centre in each emirate by 2020, but due to the high population density in Dubai, we plan to build two additional centres here. Our lifestyle management division, Arabian Wellness, will work on initiating programmes for Corporate and School Health in Dubai and other emirates. An alliance with the Emirates Diabetes Society is also on the agenda," adds Dr Siddiqui.

Diabetes is a complex disease that affects all major systems of the body and causes health problems such as heart disease, neuropathy, kidney failure, vision loss and diabetic foot wounds.

How can speciality centres help?

The goal of the diabetes centre is to encourage patients to receive early speciality care and education - getting them on the right track for controlling diabetes.

RAK Diabetes Center is equipped with specialised patient care ranging from first diagnosis to management of all complications associated with diabetes. With a mission to increase awareness, education and reduce incidence of diabetes, the centres focus on providing people with diabetes complete care, education and support.

"Our diabetes centre offers diagnosis, assessment, education, management, and multidisciplinary care. Patient-centred care is at the heart of everything, whether that means basic education, personal advice on what food to eat and how to take medications, the finer points of insulin pump use, or continuous glucose monitoring. While there is currently no cure for diabetes, it can be controlled, allowing people to have full, productive lives. By integrating diet, oral medication or insulin, and patient education, the RAK Diabetes Center works to achieve the best possible outcome, helping people with diabetes to live long and healthy lives," says Zain Gulzar, MD, FACE, ECNU, Consultant Endocrinologist, RAK Diabetes Center.

Consequently, the AHG has integrated two verticals: Arabian Wellness and Lifestyle Management, and RAK Diabetes Centers to work intensely to prevent diabetes and help diabetic patients manage their disease and its complications.

Arabian Wellness and Lifestyle Management was launched in August 2012 to manage the health of corporate employees and school children. The Arabian Wellness and Lifestyle Management is working at multiple levels. It conducts medical and health screening of all employees and schoolchildren; undertakes health and lifestyle audits for organisations; counsels patients on health management; educates, hosts talks and empowerment plus sports and fitness programmes; organises weight management and quit smoking forums etc.

Annually, the group targets 100 corporate organisations, and all private schools in Ras Al Khaimah with an objective of promoting good health, weight management, stress reduction, diabetes management, cardiac care, cancer prevention, etc.

Free screening campaign

In line with its mission to promote healthy living, RAK Diabetes Center has launched a massive campaign to conduct free screening tests. The promotion is open to all associations and companies in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, and aims to screen at least 30,000 UAE residents. The hospital has also teamed up with celebrity chef Andy Campbell to realign the focus of people towards healthy, nutritious and low-calorie foods that will help defeat the disease.

Screening and tests for diabetes is usually Dh500 and more, depending upon various factors, and cost is sometimes a deterrent why people do not take a proactive call on getting checked. The altruistic campaign is likely to benefit a lot of people. The diabetes centre's comprehensive screening includes tests for BMI, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, body composition analysis as well as consultation with RAK clinical dietician and diabetes educator. Screening will also include HBA1C test to measure the body's blood sugar level over a period of weeks/months.

These will be hosted at RAK Diabetes Center in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. The senior management of Arabian Healthcare expects to attract around 80 to 100 people on average on a daily basis, and plans to run this initiative until April 2017.

"The fact that WHO has chosen diabetes as its theme for this year should give an idea of the high prevalence of the disease," said Siddiqui. "This extensive campaign will be reaching out to thousands of people to help them understand the severity of the disease and the lifelong impact it can have on their lifestyle. We think pushing the initiative via organisations is the most practical route, since we can now reach out to a much bigger number of people. We would like the organisations to play an active role in this regard, since healthier employees translates into better productivity at work, fewer sick leaves and a high morale in general. We've also involved families mainly to help stagger the alarming rise of diabetes in children, particularly Type 1 diabetes. RAK Diabetes Center has invested millions in this initiative with the sole purpose of creating a diabetes-controlled UAE, and in effect a healthier environment for both adults and children. Our aim is to help control a disease that is not only the root of several other ailments but eventually a severe burden on the health budget of any country. We are aiming to continue the campaign until April, and depending on the outcome might take it forward another year," concluded Dr Siddiqui.

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