New comparison index helps EU governments tackle growing diabetes rates

Novo Nordisk, the world's largest maker of diabetes drugs, has invested millions in a new research centre in the UK. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Tackling Diabetes in the EU.

SPECIAL REPORT: On Wednesday (17 September), the Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP), a Swedish company which compares healthcare between countries, will reveal an analysis of diabetes prevention and treatment in Europe, making it easier for EU member states to share best practices.

At the Congress of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Vienna, HCP will publish an index which covers 28 defined indicators and areas, including Prevention, Case finding, Range and reach of services, Access to treatment and care, Procedures and Outcomes. After putting the indicators in a scoreboard up against the 30 European countries analysed, the HCP will rank the countries according to how they meet the indicator requirements. 

The HCP said that over the past eight years, the combination of healthier lifestyle, better and broader patient education, better trained physicians and improved access to treatment and devices has reduced the number of deaths in Europe due to diabetes by 10,000 a year (plus an even larger reduction of deaths from diabetes-related heart disease).

“But as more and more people are becoming diagnosed with diabetes, diabetes care must become much more efficient. National diabetes care should move towards a pan-European best practice,” the HCP said in a statement.

Despite the burden posed by the disease, many EU member states have no established best practice for treatment. The pharmaceutical company MSD has argued that all member states need to have their own national health strategies to tackle diabetes.

Getting worse

João Nabais, president of the International Diabetes Federation Europe (IDF Europe), mentioned that no country in Europe has yet managed to reverse the diabetes epidemic. Year after year, the numbers seem to be getting worse, with over 32 million people now living with diabetes in EU.

“Diabetes takes a devastating toll on health, lives and healthcare costs. It is one of the leading causes of serious and costly health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and amputation. Worryingly, estimates also indicate that one in three people with diabetes do not know they have it. This means that millions of people are progressing towards complications and are unaware of it,” Nabais told EURACTIV.

He added that diabetes also threatens the sustainability of healthcare systems across the EU. Beyond the healthcare cost, there are also considerable economic costs to society in terms of loss of productivity, early retirement and associated lost opportunities for economic development.

In 2013, the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), a think tank, called on EU governments to give diabetes special attention as around 9.3% of the EU’s total health budget is spent on diabetes.

>> Read: Diabetes: the EU’s heavy burden 

“Tackling this epidemic requires strong political leadership and urgent coordinated efforts to invest in comprehensive prevention strategies and early diagnosis,” Nabais agreed. 

“Policymakers also need to support research for finding new and more effective treatments, and ensure access to quality care that the millions of people with diabetes living in Europe need to be able to live long, healthy and productive lives.”

Diabetes is a chronic disease where there are high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. This high blood sugar produces the symptoms of frequent urination, increased thirst, and increased hunger.

Untreated, diabetes can cause many complications including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, foot ulcers and damage to the eyes.

Every two minutes, an EU citizen dies of diabetes-related diseases, according to the European Diabetes Leadership Forum (EDLF), a stakeholder organisation initiated by pharma company Novo Nordisk, ?which aims to move diabetes up the public health agenda.

50% of all people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease, making diabetes the fourth most common cause of death in Europe, EDLF figures show. Meanwhile, 10-20% die of kidney failure, 10% develop severe visual impairment and 50% suffer from diabetic neuropathy, it says

  • 17 Sept.: European Diabetes Index to be launched in Vienna, Austria.
  • 1-3 Oct.: Health organisations, campaigners, EU politicians and industry meet for Gastein Health Forum in Bad Hofgastein, Austria.
  • 3-7 Nov.: Diabetes Awareness Week in the European Parliament.
  • 14 Nov.: World Diabetes Day.

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