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Diabetes – Another Timebomb for the Gulf

May 11, 2011

Diabetes is a condition with which I am personally acquainted. Like Abdullah Babujair, whose article about the prevalence of the condition in Saudi Arabia appears in today’s Arab News, I’m not a doctor, but I can only endorse his concerns about the prevalence of the condition in the Middle East:

“I AM not a medical doctor. I am also not diabetic. Regardless, the news report that said about a quarter of the Kingdom’s population is diabetic really terrified me.

We seem to have become the single largest diabetic nation in the world. Millions of Saudis walk around carrying this killer poison called “diabetes.” This sickness destroys all organs of the body, like a bulldozer smashing everything it passes. Kidney failure is caused by diabetes. Liver cirrhosis, arteriosclerosis and blindness are all caused by diabetes. No doubt, specialized medical doctors know much more about the implications of this disease.

Diabetes was first registered in the Kingdom about 30 years ago. By that time it was only 2.2 percent. In 1985 the ratio rose to five percent, reaching 12 percent 10 years later. The latest statistics show that 24.7 percent of the population is diabetic.

This is a real catastrophe by all means. It is said to cost us more than SR51 billion every year.”

Saudi Arabia is not alone within the region in this affliction. Time Out Bahrain, in an article published last year, claims that 15% of the population of Bahrain are diabetics, and that the percentage is set to double within the next two decades. It also states that five out of the six countries most affected by the condition are Gulf States.

What’s the cause, and what’s to do? I leave the technical solutions to doctors and dieticians. But it can’t be a coincidence that hand-in-hand with the rise in diabetes cases, fast food has taken such a grip on the region, that obesity is widespread and that so many citizens in the region prefer a sedentary lifestyle  – aided by the ubiquitous automobile – to a regime of regular exercise.

It also doesn’t help that Saudi Arabia in particular seems highly reluctant to encourage exercise among women. Crossroads Arabia comments on this here.

In addition, the issue of consanguineous marriages comes into play. Predisposition to diabetes can be passed on genetically, so the common practice in the region of unions between close relatives loads the dice in favour of a number of genetic disorders of which diabetes is one.

The GCC countries have challenges enough dealing with social problems such as unemployment, inadequate housing and education systems in need of reform. Add the consequences of a rapidly growing proportion of diabetes sufferers, whose symptoms will worsen over the coming decades, and you have the challenge of overburdened health infrastructures, increased illness and absenteeism among workers in mid-career, early retirements and increased costs of health insurance.

A compelling case for proactive social programmes to changes attitudes towards diet and exercise if ever there was one. I suspect that changing attitudes towards marriage traditions will be the tougher nut to crack.

From → Middle East, Social

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