During this Diabetes Awareness Month, patients indicate a greater burden due to COVID-19.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Pandemic reignites calls for national diabetes strategy
Published 12:53 PST, Fri November 13, 2020
The impact of COVID-19 on the health of Canadians has highlighted the urgent need to reduce the burden of diabetes.
This November, as Canada marks Diabetes Awareness Month and World Diabetes Day this Saturday (Nov. 14), Diabetes Canada notes that the effect of diabetes is greater than ever on Canada’s health care system. And research shows that adults with diabetes are at increased risk of COVID-19 impacts.
Adults with diabetes are more likely to require hospitalization, and are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 compared with those who do not have diabetes. The recently released Chief Public Health Officer of Canada’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2020 indicated an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes in association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, immunosuppression, obesity, respiratory disease, or chronic kidney disease. As of Aug. 27, and based on 700 reports from a sentinel hospital surveillance network in Canada, 86 per cent of hospitalized COVID-19 cases had at least one underlying health condition, such as vascular illness including hypertension (64 per cent), cardiac illness (32 per cent), and diabetes (30 per cent).
Today, one in three Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes, and those at age 20 now face a 50 per cent chance of developing the disease. Diabetes Canada—the country’s largest charitable organization—is renewing its appeal to the Government of Canada to invest in a comprehensive nationwide Diabetes 360° strategy. The strategy was developed before the pandemic through a partnership with more than 100 diabetes and health care experts and organizations.
“By helping to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes and by enhancing Canadians’ access to treatment, Diabetes 360° will help alleviate the burden on Canada’s health care system, improve the health outcomes of Canadians with diabetes and support the country in its recovery from COVID-19,” said Laura Syron, Diabetes Canada’s president and CEO.
Action to implement a nationwide diabetes strategy, starting with a pilot project, could prevent 770,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, 34,000 amputations, 245,000 hospitalizations, and save our economy $20 billion in just seven years.
John Whitehead, a St. Catherine’s man who has lived with diabetes for nearly 45 years, has felt the impact of COVID-19 personally.
“I was furloughed from my job of 22 years due to the pandemic, and – like so many others – have struggled to afford my medications and devices and manage my diabetes effectively while also staying safe. I can’t afford to get sick,” says Whitehead.
The majority of Canadians agree a nation-wide strategy is needed. A recent Diabetes Canada survey showed 87 percent of Canadians support Government of Canada implementing a nationwide diabetes strategy.
Not only is diabetes an additional risk factor for severe illness with COVID-19, but COVID-19 is putting some at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Added economic stress, food insecurity, income insecurity, and physical inactivity caused by the pandemic may cause an increase in the number of Canadians at risk for type 2 diabetes in the coming months and years. The pandemic also disproportionately affects a number of key communities at higher risk of diabetes, including Indigenous Peoples, Black people, seniors and lower income-earning Canadians.
“COVID-19 may also be increasing the risk of poor health outcomes for those who have experienced delays or interruptions to health care due to physical distancing measures,” notes Dr. Alice Cheng, endocrinologist at Trillium Health Partners (Credit Valley) in Mississauga and St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and chair of Diabetes Canada’s professional section. “Other diabetes complications such as vision loss due to retinopathy and kidney problems requiring dialysis could also be exacerbated if there is a long term break in the continuity of care of people with diabetes in Canada due to COVID-19. That’s why we have to act now to reduce the burden not only of diabetes but also of COVID-19.”
Double the number of Canadians are living with diabetes compared to 15 years ago. Every day, more than 20 Canadians die of diabetes complications, 14 have lower limbs amputated due to diabetes, and 620 people receive a diagnosis of diabetes in Canada. Treating the disease costs Canadian health-care systems $30 billion per year.
Simply put, Canada cannot recover effectively from COVID-19 unless it also takes bold action to address diabetes. That is why Diabetes Canada is calling upon the federal government to invest $150 million in funding over seven years—beginning with an initial budget of $6 million in 2021—to support the implementation of a new nationwide diabetes strategy based on the Diabetes 360˚ Framework. Diabetes 360˚ is a holistic solution with broad stakeholder support that can help improve the prevention and management of diabetes, preventing or delaying hundreds of thousands of cases of type 2 diabetes and avoiding billions of dollars in health-care costs in Canada in just a few years.
In 2021, the world will recognize the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin in Canada. Now, a new strategy to support prevention, screening, and treatment based on evidence and the input of the nation’s best diabetes healthcare experts could again help change the lives of those in Canada and abroad.
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