Di­a­betes: the in­vis­i­ble epi­demic not enough are talk­ing about

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Des­mond Schatz Dr. Des­mond Schatz is pres­i­dent of Medicine and Sci­ence at the Amer­i­can Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion; Twit­ter: @AmDi­a­betesAssn.

When tor­nado sirens go off or se­vere storm warn­ings are is­sued, they trig­ger a se­ries of alarms and alerts that mo­ti­vate peo­ple into ur­gent ac­tion. Time is of the essence and the in­for­ma­tion is heeded with care­ful at­ten­tion.

But dan­ger­ously, di­a­betes, a dis­ease that 3,800 Amer­i­cans are di­ag­nosed with each day, has not trig­gered any­thing close to a sim­i­lar re­sponse. There are no break­ing news up­dates, no alarms be­ing sounded, no quick re­sponse to stem the mo­men­tum of the dis­ease. Di­a­betes has be­come the epi­demic that is the in­vis­i­ble ele­phant in the room.

Yet it should be im­pos­si­ble not to no­tice that it’s there — it kills more Amer­i­cans ev­ery year than breast can­cer and HIV/AIDS com­bined, and it is a gate­way to a myr­iad of other deadly health is­sues. But few peo­ple are ac­knowl­edg­ing it, much less ad­dress­ing it.

And be­cause it has lacked the so­ci­etal sense of ur­gency, fund­ing, re­search for a cure and ed­u­ca­tion for self-man­age­ment have also lagged, lead­ing to a cri­sis that has now spun out of con­trol. In fact, di­a­betes has sky­rock­eted six-fold over the past 30 years, af­fect­ing nearly 30 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, not in­clud­ing an­other 86 mil­lion who have pre­di­a­betes. Of those 86 mil­lion, more than 77 mil­lion don’t know that they have it.

While as a doc­tor my pri­mary con­cern is the hu­man toll this dis­ease takes, make no mis­take, there is a steep fi­nan­cial cost that we all are pay­ing. In fact, one out of ev­ery $5 spent in health care in the United States is now spent on those liv­ing with di­a­betes. That’s be­cause the cost of care for a per­son with this dis­ease is 2.3 times higher than for a per­son with­out it. The annual national price tag is $322 bil­lion in di­rect med­i­cal costs and lost pro­duc­tiv­ity.

One would think that these facts would trig­ger ma­jor fund­ing for re­search, but no such in­vest­ment is be­ing made. In fact, even though there are 30 times the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing with di­a­betes as liv­ing with HIV/AIDS, only $34.71 is be­ing spent by the National In­sti­tutes of Health on re­search per per­son with di­a­betes. This is a pal­try sum com­pared to more than $2,500 per pa­tient with HIV/AIDS.

Some­thing must be done. If we want to mit­i­gate the enor­mous hu­man and fi­nan­cial costs our coun­try con­tin­ues to pay, we need our gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety to step up and ad­dress the epi­demic.

You may have di­a­betes or pre­di­a­betes, but even if you don’t, you most likely have a fam­ily mem­ber or loved one who does. We as a na­tion owe it to them, and to our­selves, to make this epi­demic vis­i­ble and a top pri­or­ity in both gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety.

This Novem­ber, dur­ing Amer­i­can Di­a­betes Month, would you join mil­lions across the coun­try and raise your voice to help in­crease the sense of ur­gency about this dis­ease? Would you help en­sure that we have the best re­search, ed­u­ca­tion and treat­ments avail­able by reach­ing out to your state and con­gres­sional lead­er­ship? You can add your voice to thou­sands of oth­ers bring­ing aware­ness and ac­tion to this epi­demic and help­ing en­sure that it’s no longer the ele­phant in the room. To­gether we can end this dis­ease and give it a place in history.

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