29 Oct 2014

Why we are on the verge of diabetes & tuberculosis epidemic

Experts warn that the world needs to ‘wake up’ to an emerging epidemic of diabetes and tuberculosis. Figures show that diabetes triples the risk of a person developing TB and with cases ‘skyrocketing’ around the world, doctors said there was a risk that the progress made in the fight against tuberculosis over the last few decades would be reversed.


In a joint report by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and the World Diabetes Foundation, they said it was a case of two epidemics intersecting.

The number of cases of Type 2 diabetes has risen globally from 150m in 1980 to 380m by last year and they are projected to rise still further to 600m by 2035.

And where once it was considered a disease of wealthy countries and growing levels of obesity, it is now moving in to low and middle-income countries.

But it is also a chronic condition that weakens the immune system, making people more likely to develop active TB.

Read more: ‘Three million’ diagnosed with diabetes in UK

Dr Anthony Harries, senior adviser to the International Union, said: “We know we need to wake up and realise there is an intersecting epidemic and we need to do something about it.”

Figures show that six of the top 10 countries projected to have the greatest number of people living with diabetes by 2035 are also classified as having high levels of TB.

These are China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Russian Federation.

Dr Anil Kapur, of the World Diabetes Foundation, said countries with high levels of TB needed to be screening for diabetes.

Read more: one in three ‘has borderline diabetes’

Screening is a simple test for blood sugar levels and the Indian government had made a decision to screen all TB patients but Dr Kapur said he was not sure that it had been widely rolled out.

Discussions are currently under way in China about how they should do the monitoring and reporting of the two diseases.

Dr Harries said that for years there was evidence that HIV had destroyed people’s immune systems, allowing TB to quadruple in many countries in Africa.  But, he said, it took years to mobilise a robust response.

“We want to raise an alarm that we don’t watch history repeat itself with TB-diabetes,” he said.

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