Cambodia’s prevalence of diabetes, and the mortality rate stemming from the chronic disease, remains low compared to other countries, but the Kingdom needs to step up its work with non-communicable diseases in order to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed in years to come, according to a new report.
Diabetes prevalence has seen a higher spike in low- and-middle-income countries than in high-income countries over the past decade, according to a Global Report on Diabetes released today by the World Health Organization.
In 2014, an estimated 422 million adults were living with diabetes worldwide, compared to 180 million in 1980. A total of 1,420 people succumbed to diabetes in 2014 in the Kingdom, while another 3,460 deaths were attributed to high blood glucose, according to a country profile released by the WHO.
During the same year, Cambodia had a 5.9 per cent diabetes prevalence rate.
“In Cambodia, if we look at the prevalence of diabetes, it’s still significantly lower than in most countries,” said James Rarick, technical officer with WHO Cambodia.
“But the concern here is that the . . . mortality rate from [non-communicable diseases] is about half of the population now, and it’s been steadily increasing.”
While diabetes only accounted for 2 per cent of deaths in 2014, other non-communicable diseases accounted for half.
“The big challenge for the health care system is to evolve from primarily dealing with communicable diseases to now early detection and management of chronic diseases,” Rarick said.
The WHO is working with the Ministry of Health to provide early detection and treatment for hypertension and diabetes at local health centres, rather than provincial hospitals, though Rarick allowed that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
“It’s still a pretty long way to go . . . given the capacity is still quite low at the health centre level,” he said.
Non-communicable disease epidemics hit in waves, Rarick said. During the first wave, risk factors start to go up; during the second, people start showing up at health centres with severe complications; and once the third wave hits, it could overwhelm the system.
“It’s a myth that NCDs are only a problem of the rich countries,” he said. Ministry of Health spokesman Dr Ly Sovann said that while diabetes prevalence is low in Cambodia, it’s still a concern.
He agreed with the report’s finding that in Cambodia medicine, procedures and basic technology to screen and treat diabetes is not generally available.
“In the future, we need to expand the capacity of new technology, education and prevention to provide good care for people with diabetes,” he said.
Nen Sokha, a Khmer literature teacher at Boeung Trabek High School, lost his 68-year-old father, Nen Kheang, to diabetes last November. In 2014, his father’s diabetes worsened and his kidneys started to fail.
He needed dialysis, but Sokha’s family didn’t trust the few places in Phnom Penh that offered such treatment.
Sokha had to take his father to Vietnam for dialysis, but it got too expensive and burned through most of his savings, and the family had no choice but to bring Kheang back to Cambodia.
“I didn’t know that diabetes could be so dangerous,” Sokha said.