Forcibly-displaced people with diabetes at higher risk of disability and early death

22 May 2018

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that four million people living with diabetes are forcibly displaced as a result of man-made and natural disasters. In these difficult circumstances, people with diabetes often struggle to manage their condition and are at increased risk of disability and early death. In order to raise awareness of the challenges of preventing and managing diabetes in humanitarian settings, IDF has launched a multi-stakeholder initiative to encourage action, improve health services and ensure access to essential medicines for displaced people with diabetes.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 65 million people displaced as a result of conflicts alone. Conflicts and disasters result in large-scale movements of populations. Their arrival into unprepared locations puts severe pressure on healthcare resources and poses a significant challenge. Health systems struggle to respond to the emergency and provide healthcare for the new arrivals and their existing population.

Undiagnosed and poorly controlled diabetes can lead to acute and life-threatening complications such as blindness, amputation, kidney failure, cardiovascular events and early death. Worldwide, IDF estimates that one in two people are undiagnosed. People in humanitarian settings face an even greater risk of under-diagnosis.

Forcibly displaced people with diabetes may not be able to gain access to the medicines and supplies they need and emergency healthcare personnel are not always trained to deal with the condition. This situation is compounded by disruption to food, water and utilities.

IDF calls on national governments, international and donor organisations, civil society and the private sector to:

  • Guarantee uninterrupted access to diabetes medication and care for all forcibly-displaced people with diabetes and integrate diabetes care as a key component of the humanitarian response
  • Increase funding to strengthen health systems in areas with a high burden of displaced populations
  • Conduct research to assess the exact burden of diabetes among forcibly displaced people

The multi-stakeholder campaign involves representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and Santé Diabète Mali. It is supported by a grant from the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF).

Commenting on the new initiative, IDF President Professor Nam H. Cho said, “People living with diabetes must be able to access the essential medicines and care they need to manage the condition and avoid its debilitating complications. For some, this is a matter of life or death. Securing immediate access to essential medicines is a priority when people with diabetes are forced to flee their homes. The supply must be uninterrupted and provided at no or very low cost so that medicines are not priced out of the hands of those who need them most. All too often, the care for people with diabetes is overlooked in the response to a humanitarian crisis. We are calling for concerted action to make sure the healthcare needs of people with diabetes are not disregarded when disaster strikes.”

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