By Niall Hunter-Editor
Ireland has fallen behind other EU countries in tackling the growing diabetes epidemic, according to a major new report.
Ireland is one of 14 EU member states that has no strategy in place for tackling what can be a killer disease, the report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) European Region and the Federation of European Nurses in Diabetes (FEND), has revealed.
The report shows that while countries such as the UK and Finland have comprehensive national prevention, screening and treatment programmes, Ireland has none.
The audit of diabetes policies in the 25 EU states reports that Ireland was due to have a diabetes strategy in place around late 2005Ğearly 2006, but we still do not have any sign of a strategy being put in place.
The report, launched in Vienna at the weekend, shows that according to World Health Organisation figures, Ireland actually has the lowest diabetes incidence in the EU, at 3.4%.
However, this is regarded as an underestimate and the actual diabetes rate in Ireland is reckoned by the Diabetes Federation of Ireland to be much higher. It says there could be as many as 200,000 people in Ireland unaware that they have the condition, in addition to 200,000 who are diagnosed with diabetes.
And the number of people with diabetes in Ireland is expected to double by 2010, fuelled mainly by our growing obesity rates caused by poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.
The report points out that St James's Hospital in Dublin says it is seeing an increase of 20% each year in patients it diagnoses with type 2 diabetes.
In the EU at the moment, there are around 25 million people who have diabetes and the audit reveals the stark inequalities between diabetes policies from one country to another, with only 11 of the 25 member states having national policies on tackling the disease.
The number of cases of diabetes is expected to increase by 21% in Europe over the next 20 years.
Diabetes can have complications which include eye disease leading to blindness, heart problems, stroke, kidney failure and foot ulceration, which can lead to amputation.
The report says around 50% of people with type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes have already developed at least one complication by the time they are diagnosed.
It is estimated that up to 50% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed or are unaware of their condition.
The two groups who drew up the report have called for a Europe-wide action plan to tackle the scourge of diabetes, to include national strategies in every EU state, screening programmes to detect the condition early and to pick up complications such as eye problems, and health promotion and prevention programmes to stoop people getting diabetes in the first place.
They want the EU commission and parliament to place diabetes as a priority health issue and to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy for the condition.
Last week, the Austrian Presidency of the EU hosted a diabetes conference in Vienna at which a special declaration was made to prioritise type 2 diabetes as a key EU health priority.
Dr Michael Hall of the IDF European Region said the Vienna conference referred to the diabetes problem in Europe as a 'ticking bomb.'
"The threat to the citizens of Europe from diabetes is now so serious that we now need urgent action at the level of EU member states."
The conference heard particular concerns about the growing number of younger people and children with type two diabetes caused by poor diet and lack of exercise, and the health consequences for women of child-bearing age if they get diabetes.
The EU commission and parliament will now be pressed to take action on the issue and it will be discussed at a meeting of EU health ministers in Austria in April.
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