While the global day for diabetes awareness was marked yesterday, the latest statistics show that approximately 3.5 million Malaysian adults have been diagnosed with diabetes in 2015 - ranking Malaysia fourth amongst Asian countries for the highest number of diabetics.

The number has been constantly on the rise since 2006, based on the National Health Mobility Survey (NHMS), said Datuk Rahimah Ahmah, Diabetes Malaysia Honorary Secretary-General.

In 2006, 1.9 million out of the country's population of 26.3 million, were diagnosed with diabetes and in 2011, the number almost doubled to three million when the population was 28.3 million. The figure increased another 500,000 in 2015, with the population at almost 30 million. Now it is estimated 3.3 million are diabetic, with another 1.7 million people living with undiagnosed diabetes.

A worldwide expenditure of RM420 billion has been spent for the treatment of diabetes. The disease is becoming a global epidemic despite governmental effort on educating the public. In Malaysia, the NHMS publishes that an estimate 17.5% of Malaysians between the ages of 20 and 79 suffer from diabetes currently. Treatment of costs is also high - about RM2,331 per person annually - affecting the budget allocation for the Ministry of Health.

Rahimah called for immediate changes and cooperation from the public, particularly from parents as according to her, could help their children lead a healthier lifestyle.

"We have good food here, I know, it is the most difficult thing to change for a healthier one. Besides food, please make it a daily routine to walk 45 minutes a day," she said.

Eating more a part of culture than diabetes testing

Endocrinologist Dr. Loh Vooi Lee of IMU Healthcare said that because Malaysians do not go for testing for diabetes as much as eating is a part of the culture, healthcare professionals have to educate their patients for them to gain the knowledge and skills needed to modify behaviour and successfully self-manage the health issues and its related conditions.

"In Malaysia, all healthcare providers have an educational role when caring for people with diabetes," he says.

Dr. Loh also thinks that the public avoid testing for diabetes as they are generally worried about the problems that are associated with the disease and urges an early diagnosis.

"90% of the time, type 2 diabetes is picked up during a screening when a person has no symptoms at all. Malaysians only seek medical help when something happens. Otherwise, they do not volunteer themselves for blood tests.

"However, we are such a high risk population that testing should be something anyone above the age of 30 should be required to undergo," he added.

He also said that the cost of treating a person as an in-patient is ten times more costly than an out-patient, therefore he urges that early diagnosis would reduce the number of complications for the patient and save cost nationally.

Encourage lifestyle changes and early screenings

The Ministry of Health’s Diabetes database of people newly diagnosed with diabetes states 2.1% come from the 18-29 year old age group, while 20.1% are aged 30-44 years. About 35% are from the 45-54 year old age group, while people aged 55-64 are the second highest group at 28.7%. The final group are from those 65-79 years old, at 15.2%.

All age segments show a huge increase, proving public service announcements and health outreaches by public and private healthcare organisations and companies to be futile.

“We need to encourage enough lifestyle changes, and emphasise the importance of early screening so that Malaysians can enjoy a better quality of life. Early detection would enable us to better educate the patient, which is a pre-cursor to effective diabetes management,” concludes Dr Loh. MIMS

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