Close to 5.5 m will have diabetes in Saudi Arabia by 2030

Updated 10 October 2012
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Close to 5.5 m will have diabetes in Saudi Arabia by 2030

A leading pharmaceutical company warned that the prevalence of diabetes has climbed steeply in Saudi Arabia during the last few years, and over 19 percent of the adult population is suffering from this disease at the moment. “The Kingdom, where around 2.8 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, has the seventh highest rate in the world in terms of diabetes incidence,” said Dr. Wail Al-Qassim, general manager at Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD yesterday.
He pointed out that the total number of people suffering from diabetes would come close to 5.5 million by 2030, if the incidence continues to increase at the current rate.
Al-Qassim said that an estimated 1.2 million Saudi citizens live with the disease but are yet to be diagnosed. He expressed his concerns over the growing prevalence of diabetes in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. He said that more than SR 12 billion was spent every year on diabetes in Saudi Arabia. On a regional level, about SR 21 billion is spent on diabetes health care every year.
“We strongly believe in the need to raise awareness about diseases,” said A-Qassim, adding that MSD has a strategic partnership with the Ministry of Health, particularly in the area of diabetes. Its objective is to support health care providers’ efforts to treat chronic diseases and to stop or slow down the increased prevalence of diabetes by identifying current challenges. These initiatives are designed to increase patient’s awareness, empower patients to ensure self-management and improve disease management, he added.
Asked about the regulatory provisions of the GCC countries, when it comes to the importation, registration and approval of various drugs, he pointed out that the Gulf states, including the Kingdom, were working to modernize the regulatory and registration systems to harmonize them with international standards. “However, these reforms are still ongoing and we expect further enhancement of the processes leading to earlier access to newer therapies,” he said.
Al-Qassim said the registration and approval process of any new product could take up to two to three years from the submission of the file. This is a long period when Saudi Arabia is compared to other countries in the region, he noted. The Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA) is looking at the possibility to clear a drug within six to nine months for sale in the Saudi market, he added.
The whole process to develop a new prescription medicine is very expensive and tiring, said Al-Qassim. “It costs about $ 800 million (SR 3,000 million) to research and develop a new medicine,” he said. But, only one out of a million potential new medicines screened by scientists at such high cost will ever make it to the pharmacist’s shelf, he noted.


Taking a bite out of diabetes: How Saudi Arabia and neighbors are fighting back against the disease

Experts say the number of people living with diabetes could more than double by 2045. (Shutterstock)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Taking a bite out of diabetes: How Saudi Arabia and neighbors are fighting back against the disease

  • As the region faces a health epidemic, the Kingdom is fighting the disease with a diet of awareness and early prevention
  • ‘The target is to have a zero percent rise in deaths due to diabetes by 2025’

Countries across the Gulf need to implement strict protocols to restrict access to junk food, encourage healthier lifestyles and ensure diabetics are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease or the number of people in the region living with the condition could more than double by 2045, experts say.

Almost 4 million people in Saudi Arabia are living with diabetes while countries in the Middle East and North Africa top worldwide charts when it comes to allocating health care budgets to treat the soaring number of people suffering from the chronic disease.

Global experts have hailed measures in the Kingdom — including taxing sugary drinks, fitness initiatives and focusing on preventative care — to stem the rising epidemic. However, Prof. Adel El-Sayed of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, said that “there is a lack of urgency to reverse the trend” across the wider region.

“They absolutely need to improve diabetes prevention programs if they are to avoid a future health crisis,” said El-Sayed, adding that “diabetes estimates have been on the rise for several decades.”

The latest IDF estimates indicate that 39 million adults (20-79 years) are living with diabetes in the MENA region. Specifically in Saudi Arabia, 3.8 million adults are estimated by the IDF to be living with diabetes, while 1.2 million adults are estimated to have diabetes in the UAE.

El-Sayed said that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries such as Saudi Arabia (17.7 percent) and the UAE (17.3 percent) have significantly higher diabetes prevalence rates than global (8.8 percent) and regional (10.8 percent) rates. Last year there were 14,665 diabetes-related deaths in Saudi Arabia.

El-Sayed praised work done by the Kingdom but stressed the need for further work both in the country and across the wider region. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is focusing on strengthening health care by improving the access to care at the primary health-care centers. Screening for non-communicable diseases including diabetes management is a must.

“It is a big task and more needs to be done very aggressively. The target is to have a zero percent rise in deaths due to diabetes by 2025.”

According to the IDF, about 425 million people worldwide have diabetes and more than 39 million of those live in the MENA region. By 2045, this number will rise to 82 million. About 90 percent of cases are Type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable through regular physical activity and a healthy and balanced diet.

In 2014, worldwide governments committed to attempt to reduce the rise in diabetes to zero percent following recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO). As yet, just five countries are on track to achieve this goal.

“Not enough is being done to implement cost-effective programs and policies to prevent Type 2 diabetes,” said El-Sayed. “Improving awareness, investing in education to promote prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, and ensuring affordable access to medication and care are critical to controlling the epidemic.”

Diabetes can cause heart and kidney disease, strokes, leg amputation, blindness and mental diseases such as depression. 

“Over the past decade, the evolution in global health-care expenditure on diabetes in adults (20-79 years) has been tremendous, growing from $232 billion in 2007 to $727 billion in 2017,” said El-Sayed. This economic burden is projected to grow by 7 percent by 2045. “This is a very conservative estimate as it assumes that the average expenditure per person will remain constant,” said El- Sayed. The IDF MENA region has the highest percentage (17 percent) of health-care budget allocated to diabetes of all the IDF regions.”

El-Sayed praised initiatives in the Kingdom such as measures introduced last June when Saudi Arabia became the first GCC country to impose an excise tax at 100 percent on tobacco products and energy drinks, and 50 percent on soft drinks.

Kamil M. Salamah, secretary- general of the Saudi Diabetes and Endocrine Association (SDEA), said that the GCC, as well as Saudi Arabia, are among the worst globally in terms of prevalence of diabetes. “Prevalence is on the rise — at an average approximating 24 percent and rising with the exception of Oman. Unless strict measures are enacted, the prevalence is expected to reach 35 percent, if not higher.” Despite the figures, there are many GCC residents in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC who have “hidden diabetes” and are failing to be diagnosed or treated, said Salamah.

“Early diagnosis is very important because either it can be reversed to normal by adopting healthy lifestyles or managed properly to prevent complications, which are very costly.”

Salamah said that steps have already been taken in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC to encourage personal responsibility for health care to stem the rising epidemic. Measures include implementing front-of-pack food labelling and wide-ranging fitness initiatives.

“In addition, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has officially kicked off various female sports initiatives, while the General Sports Authority has been created to help both genders in their physical activities needs and initiatives.”

About 90 percent of cases are Type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable through regular physical activity and a healthy and balanced diet. (Shutterstock)

Salamah said that the Saudi Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) will also impose strict criteria on the healthy content of foods and beverages with clear labelling of sugar, salt, fats, fiber etc and penalties for violation will be enforced.

“Additionally, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health has committed to, and started, the transformation of health care by focusing on primary health-care centers to be the real ‘access to care’ — where the focus is the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which includes diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. These centers will ensure continuity of care and management of disease to prevent complications. This is a very core part of the transformation.”

Soaring rates of diabetes come with a high price tag.

“Economically, diabetes costs no less than 35 percent of the annual budget of the Ministry of Health (in Saudi Arabia); and this is just the cost of management, not including the complications,” said Salamah.

He said initiatives that could curb the prevalence of diabetes include introducing zero tolerance to sugar-sweetened drinks in schools, colleges and universities; heavily taxing food with a high sugar content; better integration
of physical activity in schoolcurriculums; holding sports championships in schools and universities; developing “exercise-friendly cities” where families can exercise and walk; and encouraging companies to develop green environments for their employees.

More controversial tactics, he said, could include banning fast-food chains and late-night takeaway deliveries after 7pm to prevent unhealthy late-night eating and banning media advertisements of unhealthy foods and beverages.

“The Kingdom’s goal is to halt the rise of diabetes by 2030 to level the curve,” he said. “That would be a remarkable achievement.”

Dr. Shaimaa Mashal, a specialist in internal medicine at the UAE’s Bareen International Hospital, said that the prevalence of diabetes is on a “rapid upsurge” in the region.

“It is extremely worrying that the MENA region contains five of the top 10 countries with the highest prevalence of diabetes worldwide. There is an urgent need for epidemiological initiatives to address this problem,” she said.

“Diabetes is placing huge economic strain on health providers, governments and insurers — but with early detection and disease management, as well as strong prevention programs, that cost can be reduced. In some cases, with careful and often drastic lifestyle alterations, Type 2 diabetes can even be reversed.”

Dr. Fathi Yousef Al-Giurani, a consultant in internal medicine at the UAE’s Medeor 24x7, said that diabetes has risen about tenfold in the past three decades in Saudi Arabia.

“The health burden due to diabetes in Saudi Arabia is predicted to rise to very high levels unless a wide-ranging epidemic control program begins, with a great emphasis on advocating a healthy diet, including exercise and active lifestyles, and weight control,” warned Al-Giurani. “However, both increasing population and a greater understanding of the condition among the communities have also contributed to the increase in patients diagnosed with diabetes.”