The number of people with diabetes is expected to double in the next few decades as the world’s population increasingly shifts to an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle, and obesity rates continue to rise. This trend will hit low- and middle-income countries the hardest, where people with diabetes are at an increased risk for other serious health conditions as well such as tuberculosis, and make the management of diabetes even more complicated.
Challenges in low- and middle-income countries
Medical services that are available to people in high-income countries, like the United States, are often lacking in low-income countries. People in those countries may have several unique challenges to reducing the burden of diabetes:
- Not enough health care providers trained in diabetes management. Health care providers may not have specific training in diabetes management or reliable clinical decision-making support tools to best manage people with diabetes.
- Insufficient access to medicine. Insulin can be expensive and difficult to find in some countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa. People with type 1 diabetes are particularly vulnerable to this challenge because even when insulin is available, they might not have the resources to keep it in a cool place (which is necessary when storing insulin).
- Cultural beliefs. In some cultures, obesity is a sign of wealth and can predispose people to diabetes. Diabetes prevention programs that emphasize weight loss are important.
- Insufficient medical infrastructure. Reliable laboratories, patient education programs, glucose monitoring equipment and access to medical clinics can be difficult to access in some countries.
Bridging the healthcare gap
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations such as the International Diabetes Foundation and United Nations are working to increase awareness and management of diabetes in all countries. These organizations recommend that all people — not just people with diabetes — adopt the strategies below to maintain a healthy weight and diet:
- Eat fewer foods containing refined sugars, salt and saturated fats. Eliminate foods containing trans-fatty acids.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and nuts.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes per day. Choose a moderate and enjoyable activity, such as a brisk walk or water aerobics.