Diabetes is a serious chronic disease that challenges both the health of individuals, and that of the whole healthcare system. It is the leading cause of heart attack, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation, and is the number one cause of death by disease in Canada.
The estimated cost of diabetes in Canada was $11.7 billion in 2010, and is projected to rise to $16 billion by 2020. For British Columbia, the cost is calculated at $1.5 billion a year, expected to rise to $1.9 billion by 2020. These costs are threatening the sustainability of the healthcare system.
Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions and we are at the tipping point. Compared to similar countries, Canada has some of the highest rates of diabetes. Looking at B.C. specifically, over 338,000 of us are living with diabetes — projected to increase by 62 per cent over the next decade.
Some of the reasons for the increasing prevalence of diabetes is simple demographics: Canada has an aging population. Moreover, some 60 per cent of Canadians are overweight or obese. Combined with sedentary lifestyles, these factors drive the growth in diabetes prevalence.
British Columbians have fewer risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes including lower rates of overweight and obesity, prediabetes, and higher medium incomes than other regions of Canada. At the same time, B.C. has concentrations of people whose risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is higher than the national average: South Asian, Chinese and Aboriginal populations.
A report issued by the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) called “Diabetes: Canada at the Tipping Point — Charting a New Path,” details the growing prevalence of diabetes. Its conclusion is that while some progress has been made by governments to address the problem, that progress is dwarfed by the growing burden of the disease.
The CDA report offers recommendations including some specific to British Columbia. The province should start by building on its Healthy Families BC initiative. That plan should expand to provide weight reduction support for those who are overweight, not just obese. Over half of the adults and close to one in three children and youth in the province are overweight or obese.
The province should also extend its coverage for insulin pumps to include all British Columbians with Type 1 diabetes who would benefit, regardless of age. Currently, only children and youth to age 18 are covered. Doing so will not only help improve the quality of life of these individuals, but also reduce the burden on the healthcare system by preventing or delaying serious and costly complications from diabetes.
BC needs to improve access to diabetes medications, devices and supplies to effectively prevent or delay secondary complications from diabetes. For many people, high out-of-pocket costs for diabetes-related medications, devices and supplies remain a barrier for many to effectively manage their disease.
Taking action to combat the growing diabetes epidemic is becoming increasingly critical as the burden of the disease is not going down. Without effective action, diabetes will threaten the health and prosperity of Canadians and our healthcare systems.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Dr. Paul Martiquet
Vancouver Coastal Health