Qatar: Rising to the diabetes challenge

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Seeking to reduce the incidence of diabetes and lower the costs affiliated with its treatment, Qatar is stepping up efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles via education and informational campaigns that focus on proper diet and nutrition. The growth of private health care centres and the imminent arrival of mandatory health insurance should also play a part in stemming the disease’s growth.

Data from both the Qatar Diabetes Association (QDA) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) put the prevalence of diabetes in the country at 20.2%, almost double the average for the Middle East and North Africa region and far above the global average of 8.5%. Given this rate of prevalence, some 215,000 Qataris have been diagnosed with diabetes, though authorities fear this figure is in fact higher, with many cases not identified.

According to the IDF, the number of people suffering from diabetes worldwide will increase by 50% to 552m by 2030 from the present level of around 366m. If the efforts of the government and health services do not have a positive impact, a similar rate of increase could take the number of Qataris with diabetes to well over 300,000, and the cost to the national health system could become a significant burden.

Based on IDF data, Qatar has one of the highest rates of expenditure to treat diabetes as a percentage of its national health budget. The 18% of its health outlay that it spends on the disease falls behind only Nauru, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Tuvalu and Bahrain. Estimates put the cost of managing diabetes and preventing its complications at more than $2200 per person, a figure that is bound to rise in the short to medium term as the state looks to tackle the spread of the disease.

One of the most significant factors in developing diabetes is obesity, and with Qatar’s population listed as having one of the highest levels of overweight adults – more than 30% – the risk of having full-blown diabetes in later life is very real for the country’s citizens.

To try and stem this growing drain on the health budget, and on the economy as a whole, the Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) – the managing agency for Qatar’s premier health services providers – announced it would be launching a new programme to increase diabetes awareness and prompt Qataris to take better care of their health.

According to Dr Amin Jayyousi, a senior consultant in endocrine and diabetes at the HMC, the five-year pilot programme will seek to identify Qataris who are deemed as being pre-diabetic and to develop a scheme for them to improve their lifestyles.

“The idea is to help people reduce the risk of developing diabetes through weight reduction, diet control, healthy food and regular physical exercise,” Jayyousi said on May 6 at a seminar on diabetes prevention and management.

Similar programmes in other countries have shown that through lifestyle intervention, diabetes rates can be reduced by up to 60%. Jayyousi said that by developing and enacting a national strategy to combat the problem, Qatar could achieve the same outcomes.

“Diabetes is a huge burden for the country’s economy. Education on a proper diet and nutrition, as well as developing a healthy lifestyle, is important,” he said.

Qatari officials are hoping that the billions of dollars being pumped into projects to support the staging of the 2022 FIFA World Cup ( and other major sporting events, including the construction of stadiums and training facilities, will inspire locals to be more physically active.

The Qatar Olympic Committee has been working to promote new sports in schools and the community, as well as sponsoring free health tests. According to Maher Safi, the committee’s marketing director, the organisation’s main vision was to encourage “people to be active, and getting them to lead healthy lifestyles”.

Changing people’s lifestyles is only one part of the plan to stem the growth of diabetes; the nation will also need to ensure there are enough clinics to treat people who have already been diagnosed with the disease. This is where private clinics and hospitals are likely to come in.

With the government and public sector firmly behind efforts to stem the disease’s spread, private health operators, including hospitals, clinics and insurers, are in a good position to step in and aid efforts through their own prevention and treatment programmes.

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