Diabetes threatens many of world’s indigenous people

Diabetes poses a deadly threat to indigenous people across Asia, the Pacific and the Americas as Western lifestyles and diets replace traditional habits, medical experts warned on Monday.

Professor Martin Silink, head of the Brussels-based International Diabetes Foundation, said indigenous people had a greater genetic risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes, which is often undiagnosed.

”They also have the genes that make the diabetes more damaging, so they are more prone to develop the serious complications of diabetes,” Silink told Reuters.

About 230-million people — or about 6% of adults worldwide — have Type 2 diabetes, but the problem was worse in developing nations and among indigenous people, where up to one in two adults will have the disease.

These findings were showcased at a gathering in Melbourne of diabetes experts from the United States, Canada, Australia and the Pacific islands.

Conference host Professor Paul Zimmet said diabetes was unknown in the Pacific before World War II, but now the region had some of the highest rates in the world and where the existence of indigenous communities were at risk.

In the Pacific nation of Nauru, the world’s smallest republic with a population of 10 000 people, more than 30% of adults aged over 20 years have Type 2 diabetes. But the number rises to one in two in adults aged 35 years and above.

Similar rates of between 25% to 50% of diseased adults are found in American and Canadian indigenous peoples as well as in Australia’s Aborigine and Torres Strait Islander populations.

”It is a tragic situation, but not a lost one,” Zimmet said.

”The world needs to act now if we are to deal with this problem, which threatens to consume world economies and bankrupt health systems. It could also mean the end of some of our treasured indigenous groups.”

Globally, Silink said that every year saw between seven to eight million new cases of diabetes. Experts project more than 250-million people will suffer from the disease by 2025.

Silink said the International Diabetes Foundation was pushing for a UN resolution to make governments encourage more active lifestyles and better diets.

”There is a death due to diabetes every 10 seconds, and an amputation due to diabetes every 30 seconds. We are dealing with the biggest epidemic in world history,” he added. – Reuters

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