Toronto Star

Pandemic reinforces need for national diabetes strategy

- LAURA SYRON CONTRIBUTO­R Laura Syron is president and CEO at Diabetes Canada.

Almost 100 years ago, the most celebrated Canadian medical discovery of the 20th century was made by Canadian researcher­s at a University of Toronto laboratory. Led by Frederick Banting and Charles Best, the team developed insulin, revolution­izing the treatment for the debilitati­ng disease of diabetes and saving lives around the world.

Sadly, as we approach the centennial of that discovery, diabetes is an epidemic in Canada. It directly affects11m­illion Canadians and costs our health-care system $30 billion a year. Thousands of Canadians die from diabetes every year, and tens of thousands more are disabled by it. Indigenous peoples are among the highest risk population­s in Canada, while people with lower incomes and seniors are also at greater risk.

Canada must do better.

Despite the best efforts of every province and territory to manage the diabetes epidemic, Canada lacks a nationwide plan to better prevent and treat diabetes. Nor do we have a mechanism to share best practices across the country.

The diabetes community, led by Diabetes Canada, has repeatedly asked the federal government to implement a nationwide Diabetes 360 degrees strategy to improve the prevention, screening and treatment of diabetes, achieve better health for Canadians, save billions of dollars of health-care costs and help to strengthen our economy by creating a healthier workforce.

Unfortunat­ely, the federal government has not acted to implement this strategy, even though the strategy is supported by 87 per cent of Canadians and by several provinces, and even though the House of Commons’ Health and

Finance Committees have both recommende­d it be implemente­d.

Without a comprehens­ive plan such as Diabetes 360 degrees, we face a future where the human toll and health-care costs of diabetes will continue to rise exponentia­lly.

COVID-19 has only heightened the urgency to act. Adults with diabetes are more likely to have severe infection and require hospitaliz­ation, and about three times more likely to die, from COVID-19.

It’s no surprise, then, that nearly three-quarters of respondent­s in a survey of people affected by diabetes said they are experienci­ng increased anxiety about their health, financial situation and ability to manage their diabetes.

Bold, co-ordinated action to implement Diabetes 360 degrees will not only benefit Canadians living with diabetes, but also those with any chronic disease. The federal government has already recognized the importance of having specific pan-Canadian strategies for diseases, such as cancer and mental illness, and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade to improve health outcomes for those living with these diseases. It is hard to understand why it has failed to make a similar commitment for diabetes, given the serious public health and economic threat diabetes represents.

Next year, while the world marks the 100th anniversar­y of the discovery of insulin, Canada will have little to celebrate unless the federal government commits to implementi­ng a nationwide diabetes strategy.

For a country that prides itself on the discovery of insulin, I think we can all agree that Canadians deserve better.

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