[EDITORIALS]The looming diabetes crisisMore than four million Koreans are being treated for diabetes. Half a million new patients were diagnosed just in the past year. If the trend continues, by the year 2030 the nation will have 7.22 million diabetics, or 14.4 percent of the population. The medical community has warned that the country faces a diabetes crisis.
In Korea, the disease is often considered an illness of the rich. Though genetics is believed to play a role, a high-fat diet and a lack of exercise are major factors, and as Korea has become more affluent, this crisis has been foreseen. The number of Korean diabetes patients has increased more than tenfold in the last three decades, and the diabetes-releated death rate is 2.5 times the average among OECD countries.
Diabetes is a serious threat because it has a wide range of complications. Heart diseases, strokes and peripheral neuropathy are just a few examples. Due to the vascular complications they can develop from minor wounds, every year more than 100,000 Korean diabetics have to have their feet amputated. It is easy to imagine what agony these people must experience.
Once it developes, diabetes is a lifelong hardship. Not only is the individual’s suffering pronounced, but the disease puts a heavy burden on society. Last year alone, medical insurance claims for diabetes treatment reached 270 billion won ($270 million). Because it requires lifelong care, the cost of diabetes treatment is commonly considered higher than that of cancer. Additional burdens associated with diabetes probably result in at least 5 trillion won in social costs each year.
Advanced countries like the United States and Japan have already launched wars on diabetes. But Korea appears vulnerable to the threat. The government has no policy and no budget allocation regarding the disease, and there are no reliable surveys. In the United States, nearly 40 percent of the country’s medical spending is related to diabetes. In Korea, 1.2 billion won from the Health Promotion Fund was spent. With this level of awareness, it is scarcely possible to even dream about systemic prevention and management of patients.
Experts have recommended that the government establish a database of diabetic patients. That should be done as soon as possible. More importantly, every individual must be aware and responsible for his or her health. Koreans must avoid high-fat, high-carbohydrate diets, and must exercise.