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[BEIJING] Developing country governments and international donors have not taken diabetes seriously enough and must invest in research and care, says a new report.

The report was published last month (April) by the European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES), a project that fights hunger and disease by enhancing collaboration between researchers in Europe and the developing world.

Diabetics either lack insulin, or cannot use it effectively. The disease causes high levels of sugar in the blood, which can seriously damage the nervous and circulatory systems. It can be caused by obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle.

In 2007, about 3.8 million people died of diabetes — about as many as died from HIV/AIDS and almost four times the deaths from malaria, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

And according to the WHO, four out of five diabetic patients live in developing countries. This is likely to increase by 150 per cent in the next 25 years.

The report's authors interviewed leading diabetes researchers and practitioners in Cameroon, China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. They concluded that a lack of national population-based epidemiology data and specific local biomedical research, as well as low healthcare budgets, have all raised diabetes prevalence in developing countries.

In India for example, many people don't even know they have diabetes. And government officials are reluctant to tackle diabetes if it does not bring tangible benefits.

The report calls for more reliable epidemiological studies to address the scale of the problem, and research into affordable diagnostics and treatments.

"[Medical insulin] is very expensive compared to [diabetes patients'] income, so some of them give up the treatments," says Li Liu, a paediatric diabetes physician at Guangzhou Children's Hospital in China, in the report.

"The biggest challenge is that diabetes is still not recognised as a serious problem in the developing world," Jens Degett, EAGLES executive director, told SciDev.Net.

Degett also calls for research into the specific aspects of diabetes in the developing world. "Many people in the developing world are much more vulnerable to diabetes than we are in the industrialised world," he says.

He adds that genetic difference can be a factor in vulnerability to diabetes, and that people in developing countries may be less aware of the unhealthy effects of junk food and poor exercise.

Link to full report [260kB]

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