More than 430,000 Cambodia people aged 20-79 are living with diabetes, while the number of deaths from the disease has risen to 3,362, or about 3.75 per cent of the annual death toll, according to data released in 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar, called glucose, and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Type 2 diabetes usually happens to adults whose bodies are resistant to insulin or who produce insufficient insulin.
Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow glucose to enter cells to produce energy.
“For people with diabetes, access to affordable treatment, including insulin, is essential for their survival. We must all work to keep the growth rate of diabetes at zero by 2025,” said the WHO Global Diabetes Compact, who are focused on controlling the global spread of diabetes.
However, the global trend of those who develop diabetes has continued to rise alarmingly in recent decades, with Covid-19 causing even more negative effects for people with diabetes.
According to World Life Expectancy, about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, most of whom reside in low- and middle-income countries, with 1.5 million pronounced dead from the disease every year. In Cambodia, as of June 22, the death rate from diabetes had risen to 8,325.
The International Diabetes Federation estimated that Cambodians spend about $103 million a year on diabetes treatment.
It also estimated that if they do not change their eating habits by 2030, the cost of treating Cambodians for diabetes could reach more than $145 million.
Dr Sum Satha, a specialist in urology and endocrinology at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh and a member of the American College of Endocrinology, told The Post that there were three types of diabetes.
Type 1 occurs in children whose pancreas cannot produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes occurs in adults and the elderly because the pancreas is weak and unable to produce enough insulin.
Type 3 diabetes happened to some pregnant women because hormonal changes can affect the pancreatic function.
“Because the pancreases cannot produce sufficient insulin or is not responding to changes in hormones, glucose can’t seep into tissues when patients eat sugary food. It gets absorbed into the blood vessels. Some patients experience double vision, joint pain, fainting or even heart attacks. Pregnant women’s hormonal changes may disappear after they give birth, although they are subsequently more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life,” he said.
He added that patients who fail to receive proper treatment are taking a serious risk, and are very likely to develop heart and kidney diseases.
Dr Min Seng Leap, a cardiologist at Calmette Hospital, said that 50 per cent of diabetic patients have already developed the symptoms of heart disease, but this was sometimes overlooked.
“If we fail to diagnose it on time, patients with this problem could suffer from life changing heart attacks if the sugar blocks the blood vessels of the heart,” she said.
Dr Niv Rathvireak, a urologist at the same hospital, said 30 per cent of diabetics develop kidney problems.
“Some patients might reach the point where regular kidney dialysis is required,” she said.
To control the problem, he advised that the patients undergo treatment and regularly monitor their blood sugar levels and blood pressure. They should get into the habit of doing this as soon as they are aware they have developed diabetes, and not wait for it to cause serious damage.
Dr Som Ra, a specialist in general disease, said that for their health to improve, diabetics would have to change their lifestyles. They must make sure they take the medicine their specialists recommend and should be sure to cut out foods that are high in sugar or calories.
“People with diabetes can live perfectly normal lives. They just need to be sure to make healthy choices and take their medicine,” he said.
He also recommended that patients make sure they get 30 minutes of exercise a day and eat plenty of green vegetables and fish. Doing this can drastically reduce the severity of type 2 diabetes.
Yuong Sarath, who developed diabetes 25 years ago, said that sometimes when his blood sugar levels are too high it caused him so much pain that he could not bear it.
He added that the diabetes had advanced two years ago, and doctors had had to amputate one of his legs blow the knee. Now, he was unable to walk and could only sit in a wheelchair or lay in bed.
“When the sugar levels in my blood vessels go up, it causes severe joint pain. My legs didn’t just feel stiff, but were itchy and developed ulcers. The ulcers would not heal like regular sores, and I finally, I lost my leg,” he said.