Friday, December 08, 2006

South African Health Ministry to Place More Emphasis on Halting Rise in Diabetes

CAPE TOWN 7 December 2006 Sapa


The South African government has promised to intensity the fight
against diabetes, one of the world's foremost experts on the
disease, Professor George Alberti, said on Thursday.

Alberti, a past president of the International Diabetes
Federation (IDF), is also chairman of the organising
committee of the IDF's World Diabetes Congress, being
held in Cape Town.

He said South African Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe
Madlala-Routledge had not only come to the opening of the congress, but attended some of the conference sessions
"which I've never known a politician to do before".

He found this was "immensely encouraging".

"She gave a real commitment that diabetes would be way up the
priority list in South Africa," he said.

He said that during an "inspirational" after-dinner address on
Wednesday night, Madlala-Routledge had announced South Africa would be leading the Group of 77 developing nations in trying to get the United Nations to adopt a declaration on diabetes this year - "in
the next few days", Alberti said.

A declaration would call on member countries to take diabetes
and its prevention seriously, he said.

Though the declaration in itself was not very important, it
would allow the IDF's 199 member associations around the
world to pursue their governments to take action.

One of the reasons the congress was held in South Africa - the
last one was in Paris - was that organisers felt the issue of
diabetes was "very much underplayed" on the subcontinent
because of the priority given to infectious diseases.

"It's what I call the silent killer, because you don't
necessarily have many symptoms, certainly to start with.

"For the adult variety, Type 2 diabetes, which is 95 percent of
the world's diabetes, it doesn't kill you suddenly.

"It hasn't attracted the [same] attention of something like

Alberti said the world was witnessing an "inexorable rise" in
diabetes as the incidence of obesity increased.

Type 2 diabetes was occurring in younger and younger
populations, who were getting heart attacks, strokes, and
undergoing amputations, at the peak of their "life ability", in
their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Latest figures put the incidence of diabetes worldwide at 246
million, which was going to rise to a "very conservative" 350
million by 2025.

As many as 350 million people could already be pre-diabetic, he

A minimum of three million deaths a year worldwide were "speeded
up" by diabetes, though given problems in identifying the disease
from death certification, the figure could be as much as ten
million, he said.

He said dietary change was particularly difficult on the
Southern African subcontinent because people there saw
putting on weight as an indication of success.

Anyone losing weight was looked on as probably being ill, or

Governments could take a political stance on dealing with the
food industry, and the need for recreation, and push diet and
lifestyle education in schools.

They could use "sensible differential pricing" to make foods
such as fruit, vegetables and fish a real option for people.

"What we need to do is change the way society looks after itself
and its individual members, and that is one hell of a challenge,"
he said.

When he and colleagues helped the Mauritian government to
change the import subsidy on cooking oil from palm oil to the healthier soya oil, there had been a 20 percent drop in cholesterol levels.

Earlier this week, the IDF's Africa region adopted a "Diabetes
Declaration and Strategy for Africa" designed to raise community
and political awareness about the disease.

It included an action plan for use in all sub-Saharan countries.

IDF president Pierre Lefebvre said diabetes was fast becoming
"the epidemic of the 21st century".

Alberti said that apart from a few glitches, the conference,
attended by 12,200 registered participants, had been
"outstandingly good" organisationally.

This was in part due to the efforts of staff at the Cape Town
International Conference Centre, who had "bent over backwards".

The conference, which closes on Thursday evening, is believed to
be the biggest ever held in Cape Town.

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