The Global Diabetes Epidemic
Twelve years ago, my husband and I packed up all of our belongings and moved to Trivandrum — a steamy, tropical town at the southern tip of India in Kerala. At the time, I was a medical student interested in studying stroke. For the next six months I dressed in a sari and walked to work on jungle roads. At the hospital, I immediately began seeing a steady stream of young patients affected by strokes, many of whom were so severely disabled that they were unable to work. I initially suspected the cause was tuberculosis or dengue fever — after all, this was the developing world, where infections have long been primary culprits for disease. But I soon learned that my hunch was wrong.
One of my first patients was a woman in her mid-30s who came in with a headache, vomiting and an unsteady gait. Her scan showed a brainstem stroke. Her blood sugars were very high. The underlying cause of her stroke was most likely untreated Type 2 diabetes. Here I was, halfway around the globe, in a vastly foreign culture, but I was looking at a disease — and the lifestyle that fostered it — that was startlingly familiar.
Today, I am an endocrinologist, and diabetes has become a full-blown epidemic in India, China, and throughout many emerging economies.
In the United States, diabetes tends to be a disease that, while certainly not benign, is eminently manageable. Just this month, federal researchers reported that health risks for the approximately 25 million Americans with diabetes had fallen sharply over the last two decades. Elsewhere on the globe, however, diabetes plays out in a drama Continue reading