The theme for the World Diabetes Day 2009-2013 campaigns is:
"Diabetes Education and Prevention"; with a view to "Understand
Diabetes and Take Control". Diabetes, mainly type-2 diabetes is very
common in India and there are 50.8 million people living with diabetes
currently in the country.
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates this
number to rise to 70 million by the year 2025. So there is an urgent need for a
national diabetes control programme.
Women are as equally affected by diabetes as men. When
compared with men, women have a 50 percent greater risk of diabetic coma, a
condition brought on by poorly controlled diabetes and lack of insulin. Diabetes
also poses special challenges during pregnancy.
Diabetes during pregnancy (gestational and type-1 diabetes)
results in an increased risk for problems such as high birth weight, birth
defects, and other complications for the mother. It also puts the woman and her
child to an increased risk for developing type-2 diabetes later.
"Women who have uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes in
pregnancy can have several complications like: infertility, recurrent
spontaneous abortions, higher risk of congenital malformations in the
developing foetus, cardiac malformations, gastro-intestinal malformations etc.
Moreover, they have a higher chance of having a macrosomic baby who can have
several complications in the early neonatal period like hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia.
A large baby can also create problems during childbirth and lead to increased
incidence of operative delivery" said Dr Amita Pandey, a leading
gynaecologist and Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and
Gynaecology, CSM Medical University (CSMMU, erstwhile King George's Medical
College - KGMC).
Yet, diabetes as a maternal health issue is largely
unaddressed in developing countries like India. Gender inequality places a
higher burden of social and economic consequences of diabetes on women, while
at the same time imposing greater barriers to access to care. Diagnosis of
gestational diabetes identifies women as well as their children at very high
risk of future diabetes. So identifying and providing care for diabetes during
pregnancy are crucial.
Dr Pandey rues that "doctors working in the smaller
cities and in the peripheral health centres, are not programmed to diagnose and
manage diabetes in pregnancy. Most of the times it goes unnoticed, and only
when complications, like congenital malformation or abortion, occur and the
patient consults a specialist, is it diagnosed. So although the health system
is equipped to screen for the disorder and diagnose it early (there are simple
screening tests, like the 50g, one hour blood sugar screening test, available
to diagnose GDM in all government hospitals), the doctors don't lay enough
emphasis on this and often overlook the problem. In fact, it may appear to be
shocking, but in the state of Uttar Pradesh at least, very often the doctors do
not even get the haemoglobin of the woman estimated during the entire
pregnancy. So how can one expect them to think about blood sugar screening to
diagnose gestational diabetes? One may justify it by calling it a result of
system failure or adverse effect of over-population, but we do fail on this
aspect as far as public health services are concerned."
A study carried out in 2004, by Diabetes Care and Research
Institute, Chennai, and the Tamil Nadu Health Department, in and around the
rural/urban areas of the city found a 13.8% prevalence of gestational diabetes.
This prompted the Tamil Nadu state government to make diabetes screening
compulsory for all pregnant women, since 2007. This needs to be emulated on a
Dr Pandey agrees that "diabetes is perhaps a
complication of the super-mechanised lives we lead these days. We Indians have
very poor dietary habits--a high intake of simple carbohydrates and fats with
very little physical exercise. This results in fulminant diabetes in those
(like Indians), who are genetically predisposed for the same. Moreover, Indian
women are more negligent in controlling blood sugar levels and often end up
with grave consequences and complications of diabetes. They are also not able
to spend sufficient money on getting a proper treatment for themselves as the
husband and the sons get a higher priority as far as health and treatment
expenditures are concerned."
So while on the one hand, we have an overburdened health
system which is ill equipped to conduct basic health checkups, on the other
hand we have educated but ignorant expectant mothers, who have been
traditionally tutored to neglect their own health. Little do they realize that
undetected/untreated gestational diabetes involves a higher risk of maternal
and prenatal morbidity and poor pregnancy outcomes.
Hence it is important that women shed their apathetic
attitude and pay proper attention to eating a healthy diet and to go for
regular walks and other forms of exercise. Merely doing household chores is not
enough exercise. Exercise lowers glucose levels, helps weight loss, maintains a
healthy heart and helps relieve stress. They also need to demand to have their
blood sugar tested in both the first and second trimester, if pregnant. It is
to their advantage to discover gestational diabetes early, if it exists.
Also, there is an urgent need for government action, to not
only focus on women with diabetes, but have compulsory screening for
gestational diabetes in all public/private hospitals. It should also be mandatory
for all government/non government enterprises and educational institutions to
have annual health tests for diabetes and other non-communicable diseases for
In the words of Dr Anil Kapur, President of the World
Diabetes Foundation (WDF), "focussing on gestational diabetes is a low
cost preventive way to improve maternal and child health, and a small
investment in providing screening for mothers at risk for gestational diabetes
is likely to have an impact on the beneficiaries as well as on health care
systems and budgets."
Contributed by: Bobby Ramakant