How Diabetes contributes to 35% of premature deaths in Pakistan — key insights and prevention

Diabetes, known in the medical community as “the silent killer”, is one of the most widely prevalent diseases in Pakistan currently. A latest study has revealed that the diabetes is in fact connected to around 35% of premature deaths in the country.

The worrisome revelation was made during a seminar organized by the Nutrition Department, Institute of Public Health on World Diabetes Day, held on November 14, to raise public awareness and foster collaborative efforts among medical professionals to curb the escalating health crisis.

Speaking at the event aimed at raising public awareness to address the escalating health crisis, Dr. Mehreen Farooqi emphasized the critical connection between diabetes and 35% of premature deaths in Pakistan. Underscoring the urgency of proactive health management in the population, she said that “35% of deaths in Pakistan before the age of 60 are due to diabetes.”

Dr. Farooqi recommended that everyone reaching the age of 35 undergo blood screening for sugar levels. This proactive approach enables the early diagnosis and prevention of diabetes. She also mentioned the effectiveness of insulin in treating diabetes.

Highlighting the risks of diabetes, the experts attributed it to diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, renal failure, and blindness.

“The risk of complications places significant stress on people living with diabetes as more than two-fifths (or 43%) of respondents in Pakistan say they worry most days about developing diabetes-related complications,” a study by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) said. The risk of complications could be significantly reduced through early detection, timely treatment and informed self-care, the study said further.

Insulin shortage and rising inflation

Pakistan allocates less than 2% of its GDP to health, leaving the public healthcare system unable to provide free insulin to diabetic patients. Dr. Muhammad Fayyaz, a prominent diabetes expert, warns that 30% of facilities are now without insulin, and private hospitals face erratic availability.

The cost of insulin has doubled or nearly tripled in the past year, exacerbating the plight of a population where 43% live in poverty. Economic turmoil and rising inflation further hinder access to life-saving medicines. “The government is no longer able to allocate sufficient money for drugs like insulin or for laboratory testing,” said Dr Fayyaz. With limited medicines available at government hospitals and many Pakistanis unable to afford to purchase drugs from private hospitals, “Patients are just at home without medicines,” Dr Fayyaz said.


Why is the diabetes rate alarmingly high in Pakistan? 

Professor Zia ul Haq, the Vice Chancellor of Khyber Medical University, cites multiple factors, including obesity and lack of exercise, contributing to the high prevalence of diabetes.

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to chronic conditions and acute complications, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the healthcare crisis.

The 2021 report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) ranked Pakistan third globally for the number of adults (20–79 years) with diabetes, totaling 33 million. China and India claimed the top two spots in the rankings.

Experts believe Westernization is the major cause of the diabetes epidemic in Asian countries, both in the Asia Pacific as well as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. A sedentary lifestyle and Western food are the root causes of diabetes among Asians, they added.

“In the past, Asians used to live a simple life with consumption of a lot of vegetables but now they are consuming more meat and living a mechanized life,” health experts have said.

How to avoid complications and manage diabetes?

With more than 33 million people living with diabetes in Pakistan, the country has the highest comparative diabetes prevalence rate globally at 30.8%. Prof Abdul Basit, director of the Baqai Institute of Diabetology & Endocrinology, emphasizes the urgent need for improved awareness and education to detect and manage complications early.

Track your Diabetes
Track your Diabetes. (Image Credit: National Eye Institute)

Health experts suggested people to:

  • Change daily lifestyle and eating habits
  • Add walk and exercise to daily routine
  • Eat less food
  • Avoid junk food
  • Say no to cold drinks
  • Minimize the consumption of sugar and sweets to avoid obesity
  • Obesity causes diabetes which in turn is a major cause of high blood pressure, heart disease, renal failure and blindness

Alarming Diabetes statistics in Pakistan

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that 400,000 Pakistanis died from diabetes in 2021. Experts predict a record number of diabetes deaths in 2023 due to limited medicine access. A global study by the diabetes federation reveals that 79% of Pakistanis discover their diabetes after developing complications. Over 97% have experienced one or more complications, with 26% facing heart disease. 

Despite prevalent complications, 34% of those with diabetes in Pakistan receive no information about complications at diagnosis. Foot (55%), eye (57%), and oral health (53%) problems are common. Globally, WHO reports 422 million people with diabetes and 1.5 million annual deaths directly attributed to the condition.

The IDF ranked Pakistan first place for having the highest comparative diabetes prevalence rate in 2021 at 30.8%, followed by French Polynesia (25.2%) and Kuwait (24.9%). Pakistan.

Diabetes rate in Pakistan
The IDF ranked Pakistan first place for having the highest comparative diabetes prevalence rate in 2021 at 30.8%. (Image Credit: PlotSet)

Diabetes in Pakistan — Quick Facts

  • Pakistan has third-highest diabetic population in the world.
  • More than 33 million people are living with diabetes in Pakistan.
  • 400,000 died from diabetes in 2021, according to IDF.
  • 35% of deaths in Pakistan before the age of 60 are due to diabetes.
  • 79% of diabetes patients find out about the disease after developing complications.
  • 97% of diabetics studied in a recent survey by IDF had developed one or more complications. 26% of them had developed heart disease due to diabetes.
  • Individuals aged 35 and above should undergo blood sugar screening to diagnose, prevent and treat diabetes at the beginning.
  • Pakistan allocates <2% of GDP to health which means the public system cannot provide free insulin.
  • Insulin costs doubled in a year, affecting 43% living in poverty.

Globally, around 422 million people have diabetes, and 1.5 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes every year, according to WHO.

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