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DIABETIC DANGER: The Dark Side of the Gulf’s Economic Boom
Oil wealth has given Kuwait and nearby countries in the Gulf some of the highest per capita incomes in the world. But it has also created lifestyles - overeating, high-sugar diets, cushy jobs and heavy reliance on automobiles for transport - that are leading to an explosion of diabetes in the region
July 7, 2012 5:38 by Reuters
“Now people are getting in to the later stage of the disease where it really begins to cost money, which is why governments are now pushing for prevention and early intervention,” said Andrew Miles, Gulf regional director at global medical products and services supplier MSD.
Beyond the immediate financial costs, diabetes may threaten Gulf countries’ long-term plans for development. Aware that their dependence on oil leaves them vulnerable to global markets, the countries are trying to diversify their economies and bring more of their people into the workforce.
“How can you develop your economy if one-fifth of your people are sick?” Miles said.
Governments are reacting to the problem by launching public awareness campaigns to encourage healthy diets, exercise and early medical testing. Since 2007, the ICLDC has worked on a national campaign in the UAE which includes a series of public talks, free blood tests, an annual walkathon and arranging sports activities in workplaces.
In Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, MSD has worked with authorities to introduce a training programme for nurses on counselling diabetics, a diabetic cookbook, and a Ramadan iPhone application to advise diabetics who fast during the Muslim holy month.
But it may take many years to change the culture which is fostering diabetes, experts acknowledge.
“You need greater coordination between the different government ministries so that the road traffic authority is thinking about pavements to facilitate walking at the same time as the health authorities are thinking about encouraging activity to decrease obesity and diabetes,” said Miles.
“There is more awareness of the need to coordinate between the various ministries and planners, but this will undoubtedly take some time to come into effect… In the meantime, we need as much exposure and awareness of this disease as possible.” (Additional reporting by Tony Faddoul and Sylvia Westall in Kuwait; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Sonya Hepinstall)