Prof. Andrew Boulton, MD, DSc (Hon), FACP, FICP, FRCP, President of the International Diabetes Federation, highlights why COVID-19 is a particular concern for people living with diabetes
The COVID-19 pandemic is of great concern to people living with diabetes as they can be more vulnerable to the severe effects of the virus.
The latest figures from The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimate that around one-in-10 people worldwide live with diabetes. The condition can lead to long-life complications if not managed effectively. Diabetes is a leading cause of debilitating conditions such as blindness, heart attack, stroke, lower-limb amputation and kidney failure.
IDF is raising awareness around three significant concerns for people living with diabetes during the ongoing coronavirus crisis: physical and mental wellbeing, access to care and protecting those who are particularly vulnerable.
Impact on wellbeing
Regular exercise and a balanced diet are important in managing diabetes and preventing its complications. The introduction of social distancing measures to reduce COVID-19 has meant people are finding it harder to exercise and stick to a healthy diet. The pandemic has also been a considerable cause of stress. IDF has received reports of people with diabetes deciding not to visit healthcare facilities for important appointments because they fear they may contract COVID-19. As a result, there is a concern that down the line many countries may see a spike in complications.
Demands on the supply of care
People living with diabetes require continuous access to essential medicines, supplies, technologies and care. People with type 1 diabetes, for example, need insulin to survive
In many countries, the reallocation of healthcare resources and restrictions put in place to tackle the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted the access to and delivery of essential diabetes medication and care. This has made it more difficult for people with diabetes to manage their condition and can increase the chances of diabetes complications in the longer term if not addressed.
Protecting the vulnerable
People living with diabetes, particularly those with poorly managed blood glucose levels, are more susceptible to the severe effects of COVID-19. If someone with diabetes develops a viral infection, it can be harder to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and, possibly, the presence of diabetes complications. It has recently been proven that, depending on the global region, up to half of people who contracted COVID-19 had diabetes. In the UK, 25% of deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred in people with diabetes.
Support for all
It is critical that governments recognise that people with diabetes can be more vulnerable to COVID-19 and are more likely to be put into a life-threatening situation if they contract the virus. Measures to reduce potential exposure to the virus are of great importance. At the same time, people with diabetes need to be able to manage a complicated condition. Access to care and supplies must continue so they can reduce the risk of serious complications.
People living with diabetes are advised to seek medical attention if they feel ill. IDF is offering advice about the precautions to take during the pandemic. Information, including guidance on how to best maintain physical and mental health can be found at www.idf.org/covid-19.