February 4, 2017

Tackling Diabetes and Obesity in an Age of Digital Acceleration in the Gulf Cooperation Council

"The countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) are in the midst of a health crisis," according to a report sponsored by EY and published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). "Close to 20% of the region’s population is suffering from diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes." Based on desk research and interviews with medical experts and technology providers conducted by the EIU, GCC Health 2.0: Tackling diabetes and obesity in an age of digital acceleration explores the role of technology in preventing and managing diabetes and obesity in the six GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), highlighting the potential impact on patients and the healthcare system.

I strongly agree with the findings of the report:
  • Technology is facilitating a shift in approach to tackling diabetes and obesity: from being reactive to proactive. Apps, wearables and virtual health systems allow patients and medical professionals to proactively monitor key health metrics, from weight to glucose levels, to take the steps necessary to prevent symptoms from worsening. New technologies are making testing more convenient and less invasive, which will help people better understand and manage their condition.
  • Apps and wearables on their own cannot solve health issues such as diabetes. A common perception among patients is that the more apps they use, the more weight they will lose, but technology can only play a supporting role. The onus lies on the patient to use these technologies consistently and to modify their behavior and dietary habits to deliver genuine results.
  • The new wave of technological innovations provides an opportunity for health authorities in the region to transform their healthcare system. Reducing the need for in-patient consultations through remote monitoring and self-management can alleviate existing pressures on healthcare capacity in the Gulf, particularly the shortage of physicians. Many apps and wearables that encourage healthier lifestyles can be effective in preventing diabetes and obesity, generating cost savings by avoiding the need for expensive medical procedures and treatment in the future.
  • Insurance providers must be encouraged to cover new technologies. Providing coverage of technologies that will prevent symptoms from worsening or, preferably, prevent the disease altogether, will reduce overall costs to insurers in the medium-to-long-term.
Diabetes and obesity is a problem worldwide, not just in the GCC. According to the World Health Organization's factsheet on obesity, worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 600 million were obese. Furthermore, the Geneva, Switzerland-based organization notes that most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2014. Importantly, "Obesity is preventable."

On the topic of diabetes, the WHO says the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014" and the global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has risen from 4.7 percent in 1980 to 8.5 percent in 2014. Moreover, diabetes prevalence has been rising more rapidly in middle- and low-income countries and diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. Sadly, the WHO projects that diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death in 2030.

However, the WHO proclaims that a "healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use are ways to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes." Encouragingly, "diabetes can be treated and its consequences avoided or delayed with diet, physical activity, medication and regular screening and treatment for complications."

While "new technology, by itself, cannot prevent and treat diabetes and obesity," according to the EIU report, using technology can assist individuals to live a health lifestyle. "For health providers, technology can support designing and delivering more effective and efficient services." As Alan Russell, highmark distinguished professor and director Carnegie Mellon University's Disruptive Health Technology Institute said in an interview for the report: "'Diabetes and obesity are issues that cut across all of society. Medicine alone cannot solve the problem, nor can technology. Innovative technology needs to play a supporting role.' "

Do you agree with the findings of the report? What role does technology play in the prevention and management of diabetes and obesity?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

No comments:

Post a Comment