Covid-19 urgency needed to address an “avalanche of diabetes” amongst the Pacific community

A senior Pacific doctor says that the enthusiasm the New Zealand government has shown to combat the Covid-19 pandemic is also needed to fight the current diabetes crisis.

Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) member and public health physician, Dr Corina Grey, says there has been an “avalanche of diabetes” amongst the Pacific and Māori communities.  PMA is teaming up with Te Ohu Rata ō Aotearoa (Māori Medical Practitioners Association) and the New Zealand Society for the Study of Diabetes, to advocate to the government and Ministry of Health to focus on the care of people living with type 2 diabetes.

Pacific peoples have a significantly higher rate of diabetes than all other ethnic groups. On average, 53 percent of Pacific peoples aged 65-74 years were estimated to have diabetes compared with 10.9 percent of people of European ethnicity aged 65-74 years.

Dr Grey hopes the New Zealand government can address the diabetes problem just as seriously as Covid-19, especially when people living with diabetes have a higher risk of poor outcomes if they contract the Covid-19 virus.

“Covid has shown us what can happen where there is a government led system wide response to a crisis. What the government must realise is that diabetes is a national crisis as well, especially amongst our Pacific population.

We had a system wide response to Covid because it was immediate and it obviously affected people’s ability to move around the world, to engage in business and to leave their homes. Diabetes is more insidious. It takes time for the complications for diabetes to come about, like kidney disease and amputations.

We have never had a government led response. They have the opportunity to take the learning from Covid-19 and apply that to diabetes.”

Dr Grey’s comments come after a report was released this week on the economic and social cost of type 2 diabetes in New Zealand. The report was conducted by PwC and funded by Diabetes New Zealand, Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, Healthier Lives – He Oranga Hauora National Science Challenge and Tony and Heather Falkenstein.

It found that New Zealand continues to have no national strategy or plan to tackle diabetes, a disease the report says has reached pandemic proportions and it’s largely up to District Health Boards to develop their own strategies.

“The report is timely because it highlights diabetes as an important issue. We’ve been talking about this impending crisis of diabetes for years. We need to prioritise diabetes in the health agenda, and it needs to be government led”, says Dr Grey.

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Date: Wednesday 17 March 2021