Around 32 million people in the EU have diabetes and the number is growing. The curve for the chronic disease must be broken as it has not only great economic consequences, but also generates social inequality, experts stress.

Around 9.3% of the total health budget of the EU is spent on diabetes, a chronic disease linked to heart disease and stroke.

Speaking at a conference organised by the European Diabetes Leadership Forum on Tuesday (4 March), Health Commissioner Tonio Borg stressed the importance of prevention to fight the disease.

Half of Europeans are now considered overweight or obese while the rate among school children is 20%, Borg said, urging European policymakers to fight the trend.

On top of the healthcare costs related to treatment, diabetes also creates many indirect costs for a society due to lower productivity among the workforce, early retirement and payments for social benefits.

This is despite the fact that type 2 diabetes to a large extent is preventable. The risk factors include overweight and obesity, an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity.

Experts say promoting and facilitating a healthy lifestyle can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, for example among children, pregnant women and vulnerable groups.

Social consequences

HRH Prince Joachim of Denmark, who has been the patron of the Danish Diabetes Association since 1992, said that while the figures for diabetes are rapidly increasing, the burden is far greater than the numbers show.

"Diabetes also has a huge negative impact on families and social surroundings. We cannot allow this to continue," he said. "The cost of breaking the diabetes curve will be significant, but delaying will be much more expensive."

Danish Health Minister Nick Hækkerup told EurActiv in an interview that many people in Europe will experience a lower quality of life than they would have if society did not act.

"Another aspect is that this is an area where we see a great social inequality. It's the people from the lower-ranking social groups who tend to represent the largest number," Hækkerup said.

"On top of that, and very important as well, this also has large economic consequences for a society in terms of money spent on treating diabetes and in terms of people suffering from diabetes who are not able to participate as part of the workforce, to participate in the society as a whole," he added.

Laurette Onkelinx, Belgium's federal minister for Social Affairs and Public Health, added that complications related to diabetes can be quite disabling for some people as these can include blindness, kidney failure, and 5-10% of people with diabetes may lose a limb.

"Diabetes does require a multidisciplinary provision which is consistent and of high quality," the Belgian minister stated.

New partnerships

Jerzy Gruhn, president of Europe at the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, said that public-private partnerships could be one of the key solutions to make sure that healthcare systems are structured in a sustainable way. They will ensure that people with diabetes can have access to treatment now and in the future, he said.

His view was backed by Henrik Nedergaard, CEO of the Danish Diabetes Association, who said that with joint actions, European leadership and innovative partnerships, patients can have better lives.

"For me it goes without saying that patients come first. We must make sure that people with diabetes can live their lives to the full and we have a special obligation to make knowledge and best practise available and usable to all patients in Europe."