MEP Simon Busuttil, who has been working with three other MEPs to put the growing diabetes problem on the European agenda for the last two-and-a-half years, has said he wants European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli to deliver on the diabetes resolution that the European Parliament adopted two months ago.
Addressing a conference on diabetes at the Hilton Hotel, Dr Busuttil said: “Diabetes is finally, for the first time, truly on the European agenda. We will be putting pressure on Commissioner Dalli to deliver on the resolution.”
Dr Busuttil said that although he is not a medical doctor, he learnt about the plight of diabetes sufferers and felt motivated to do something to raise awareness of the problems they face, improve research cooperation and focus on prevention and early diagnosis. “I wanted the EU to set course to raise awareness and a common course for national policy.”
Dr Busuttil is the co-chair of the European Parliament’s EU Diabetes Working Group and co-authored the resolution on the fight against diabetes, which was adopted by the EP with an overwhelming majority.
“It isn’t an EU law, but when the European Parliament speaks with one voice, all the other EU institutions and the member states stop to listen.”
Diabetes is frequently diagnosed too late, which can have serious health consequences. Dr Busuttil said the resolution calls on member states to adopt national diabetes strategies and to make early diagnosis a priority in their national programmes. Moreover, the European Commission is urged to draw up a European diabetes strategy that would target prevention, diagnosis, management, education and research. This would put incredible pressure on individual countries to take action, said the MEP.
“The resolution calls for continued funding for diabetes research through EU research framework programmes. There is currently a lot of fragmentation in the available research on the subject, so the European Commission should draw up standardised criteria and methods for data collection, and there should be increased coordination and broader efforts to join up research efforts.”
Talking about Type 2 diabetes, which is preventable, Dr Busuttil said the resolution states that the EU and member states should use environmental, food and consumer policies to tackle known risk factors such as obesity, and EU countries should also ensure adequate education on healthy eating and physical exercise in schools.
According to various studies cited by the resolution:
in addition to the EU’s estimated 32 million diabetes sufferers, there are another 32 million citizens with impaired glucose tolerance, which has a high probability of progressing to clinically manifest diabetes
the number of people living with diabetes in Europe is expected to increase by 16.6 per cent by 2030, as a result of factors such as the obesity epidemic and the ageing of the European population
up to 50 per cent of all people with Type 2 diabetes are currently unaware of their condition
325,000 deaths per year are attributed to diabetes in the EU
in most member states, diabetes accounts for over 10 per cent of healthcare expenditure.
With about 10 per cent of the Maltese population suffering from diabetes, Malta has the highest incidence in the EU, and the total number of deaths from diabetes is projected to rise by more than 50 per cent in the next 10 years.
A lack of awareness, combined with insufficient access to health services, can lead to complications such as blindness, amputation and kidney failure.
The International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) recommends at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling or dancing. Daily 30-minute walks have been shown to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 35 to 40 per cent.
Health Minister Joe Cassar, who was one of the speakers at yesterday’s conference, said: “I will not go through the figures pertaining to the prevalence of diabetes in our country. I think that simply stating that the prevalence of diabetes in our country is very worryingly and unfavourably high is enough.”
Stressing the importance of focusing on ways of controlling the increased incidence of the disease, Dr Cassar said ongoing research will continue to guide the government in the development and delivery of plans and strategies to establish more effective and efficient ways of achieving this.