There’s no sugar-coating it: Mexico has the highest per capita incidence of type 2 diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, in the world.
In fact, according to the National Health Secretariat (SSA), a startling 9.2 percent of Mexican adults suffer from this mostly preventable disease (over half of the country’s adult population is at risk of getting the disease) and only about 40 percent of them even know that they have the condition.
Moreover, of those that are aware of their diabetes, less than 25 percent have their condition under adequate medical control.
Sometimes called adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is a disorder characterized by high blood glucose and is almost always related to poor diet, lack of exercise and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, although some patients are genetically predisposed to the disease.
The human and economic costs of type 2 diabetes in Mexico are staggering.
In 2015, diabetes led to the deaths of 21,000 Mexicans, as well as 4,500 amputations and 2,000 permanent incapacitations.
The National Social Security Institute (IMSS) recently released a report stating that it spent 43 billion pesos on treating diabetes in 2014, and that by the year 2050, that figure could skyrocket to as much as 350 billion pesos — a number that exceeds the institute’s entire annual budget for 2017.
And according to some calculations, an estimated 14 percent of Mexico’s total population will be diabetic by the year 2020.
In November, the federal government took the unprecedented step of declaring type 2 diabetes a national medical emergency.
Since then, public and private health institutions have set up new diabetes clinics, launched countless awareness campaigns and enlisted the support of transnational pharmaceutical companies to help get the word out that it is never too late to get treatment for the disease, which is the number one cause of irreversible blindness and amputations in the nation.
There have also been seminars for physicians and medical caretakers to help identify pre-diabetes patients and encourage them to begin aggressive preventive measures.
“One of the biggest problems we face is that in most cases, our patients are not diagnosed until the disease has already advanced and has caused other serious secondary consequences, such as vision loss, kidney failure, neurodegeneration or cardiovascular problems,” explained Jesús Felipe González Roldán, head of the Health Secretariat’s National Center for Preventable Diseases during a diabetes seminar organized last month by AstraZeneca.
“And the longer a person waits for treatment, the harder it is to get the disease under control.”
Untreated or poorly treated, diabetes can cut up to eight years of a person’s life, González Roldán said, and it can severely decrease the quality of life they do have.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is an inherited disease and in which the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin, a hormone required for the control of blood glucose levels leading to hyperglycemia, type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body is unable to effectively use the insulin the pancreas produces.
Consequently, the treatment of type 2 diabetes is much more complicated.
While type 1 diabetes can be controlled through the regular administration of insulin injections, type 2 requires strict dietary and physical controls such as regular aerobic exercise, the restriction of calories, a lowered consumption of simple carbohydrates and an increased consumption of complex carbohydrates and fiber.
Early detection and early treatment are key to controlling type 2 diabetes, and it is crucial that physicians and other health professionals be vigilant for early signs of the disease in their patients.
But in the end, it is the patients themselves who must make drastic changes in their lifestyle if they want to survive diabetes.
Unfortunately, most diabetics in Mexico ignore the early signs of the disease and do not seek medical care until the condition is far enough advanced to cause severe and permanent secondary problems.
Diabetes is the leading cause of death in Mexico.
According to a report released by the Colegio de Medicina Interna de México, with the right treatment and medical supervision, nearly 90 percent of diabetes mellitus patients could live full, healthy lives.
As it stands, though, of every 100 pesos spent on diabetes in Mexico, a full 55 pesos goes for caring for secondary conditions that result from delayed treatment and only 45 pesos go for control of the disease itself.
In the end, it is up to diabetes patients — or those who are predisposed to the disease (persons who are severely overweight or obese, have family histories or suffer from high blood pressure) — to get checked regularly, trade in that fried tamale torta for a salad and turn off the Xbox and go for a walk.
Lifestyle changes are not easy to make, but when you consider that they could add eight years to your life expectancy, they are within capability.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]