Diabetes is not just a physically debilitating disease. It’s also an economic burden for people around the world.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, conducted a review of the economic impact of type 2 diabetes. Their assessment shows that diabetes puts severe economic strain on many countries and negatively affects people’s employment opportunities and wages.
"Our results show a considerable impact of diabetes in terms of costs to society, health systems, individuals, and employers,” said lead researcher Till Seuring, of UEA's Norwich Medical School, in a press release.
From both a humanitarian and an economic standpoint, the review suggests that eliminating diabetes is in everyone’s best interest.
An Expensive Epidemic
Diabetes adds up in its direct and indirect costs to patients, and these expenses only increase with disease severity.
Besides standard medical care, things such as transportation to and from doctor visits, equipment, and health insurance must all be taken into account.
While not involved in this particular study, Barbara Goldoftas, an assistant professor of environmental science and policy at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, has seen many of these problems firsthand researching the impact of diabetes in Nicaragua.
For example, Goldoftas notes the cost of diabetes testing strips is “prohibitively expensive” for many people in low-income countries. In Nicaragua, she said many people could only have their blood sugar tested once a month. In the United States, people generally conduct tests daily.
Diabetes is also detrimental to the labor market. The disease greatly reduces worker productivity, meaning that people with diabetes must often rely on their family members for financial assistance if they aren’t able to work.
“It’s a disease that has to be managed day by day and hour by hour, and that takes a family’s attention and resources,” Goldoftas said.
Diabetes is most detrimental to low- and middle-income countries, but the problems are widespread. Even in a country as wealthy as the United States, people with diabetes struggle to escape the financial strain associated with the disease.
The estimated lifetime cost for a resident of the United States with diabetes is about $283,000. That’s the highest lifetime healthcare cost for any patient group in the world.
Solutions to a Complex Problem
Diabetes prevention is as critical as ever. According to the latest data from the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affected 382 million people worldwide in 2013. That number is predicted to grow to 592 million by 2035.
Two-thirds of new diabetes cases are in lower- and middle-income countries, such as China, India, Mexico, and Egypt. The researchers said rapid urbanization, changes in eating habits, and a more sedentary lifestyle are the main causes.
And, as type 2 diabetes becomes more common, the economic impacts will also escalate on a global scale.
Combating diabetes is a complex issue. Confronting this public health crisis involves pinpointing the socioeconomic, political and cultural factors contributing to the rise in diabetes that are specific to each country.
“How can we address the social and environmental determinants of this debilitating disease, and how can we make it easier to help people do what they need to do?” Goldoftas said.
She supports a population-based approach to stopping diabetes, in which governments and global health advocates work alongside communities to find solutions tailored to their needs. Promoting preventive measures, such as improved diet and exercise, are also key components of prevention.
"We would hope that the findings further increase the policy attention being paid to diabetes prevention and management in rich countries, and it should in particular make health and economic policymakers in developing countries aware of the economic damage that diabetes can do," Seuring said.