Diabetes is a lifelong condition, for which there is currently no cure, although scientists are undertaking pioneering research into care, treatment, and prevention. In recent years, the prevalence of diabetes has been rising more rapidly in the developing world.

In a speech at the initiation ceremony of the Aga Khan University Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, in December 2015, Mawlana Hazar Imam remarked on the healthcare challenges of the future.

“We are more and more confronted in modern society by non-communicable disease and therefore in the decades ahead we will be concentrating through the Aga Khan Health Network and other medical institutions in dealing with non-communicable diseases. And I refer to diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, mental and neurological illness, cancer and others. These are the areas where we must concentrate properly, to serve future generations of society.”

There are two main types of the condition; type 1 diabetes, where the body’s immune system attacks insulin producing cells; and type 2 diabetes, in which either the pancreas doesn’t secrete enough insulin or the insulin produced cannot be utilised. As a result of either type, this causes an unhealthy rise in blood sugar levels. If unchecked, diabetes can lead to potentially severe consequences such as blindness, stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, amputation, and even premature death.

Globally, over 422 million adults now live with diabetes, representing an almost four fold increase since 1980. South Asia in particular has seen a sharp rise in recent times. According to Diabetes Foundation India, approximately 50 million people in India suffer from diabetes and by 2025 this figure is likely to go up to 80 million making India the 'Diabetes Capital' of the world.

This brings up the question: What has caused such an alarming rise in the prevalence of diabetes? Numerous risk factors have contributed to individuals developing the condition. Unhealthy eating habits owing to a shift from balanced meals to processed and fast foods, and sweetened beverages. Increasingly sedentary lifestyles due to a lack of physical activity, and the overuse of electronic devices. Family history of diabetes and being overweight or obese are also significant risk factors.

Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, Chairman of the Aga Khan Health Board of India says, “AKHB has taken on the challenge of addressing the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), especially diabetes, in the Jamat by ensuring early detection through screenings and a comprehensive follow up programme where trained Community Case Workers (CCWs) are guiding individuals with diabetes to lead a healthy lifestyle. This initiative is the first of its kind and is being looked at as a model for other countries to replicate.”

“In addition, since habits are formed during the younger impressionable years, we are also focusing on creating healthy eating habits among children by organising programmes like Little Master Chef. Gestational diabetes during pregnancy is being addressed through the Safe Motherhood Programme where pregnant mothers are being sensitised about how it can be managed through regular checkups and lifestyle modification,” continued Dr Ladhani.

Speaking on the impact of the CCW programme, 34-year-old Nizar Bhura from Thane says, “In April this year I did an NCD check up at a screening camp organised by AKHB and the reports revealed that I had high cholesterol values and borderline values for blood sugar. As suggested by the CCW, I modified my lifestyle and made necessary dietary changes. The follow up tests showed that my blood parameters were within the normal range.”

Recognising the symptoms early on and undergoing a screening is half the battle won. Excessive thirst, frequent passing of water, increased hunger, loss of weight, and fatigue as well as delayed healing of wounds are some of the symptoms of diabetes. If you have experienced any of these, it would be wise to undergo a screening test so that corrective action can be taken.


If you have concerns about the health of yourself or your family, a wise course of action is to get in contact with a doctor, or reach out to the Aga Khan Health Board.