Preventing and managing diabetes in humanitarian settings

Last update: 30/06/2020

Humanitarian image logosAround the world, 36 million people were internally displaced in 2016 and 68.5 million people are currently displaced as a result of conflict alone. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that four million people living with diabetes are displaced as a result of man-made and natural disasters.

People with diabetes need uninterrupted access to medicines and care. They need healthy food and a safe space to exercise. Caring for diabetes becomes even more difficult when disaster strikes and people are forced to flee. In these difficult circumstances, people with diabetes often struggle to manage their condition and are at increased risk of life-threatening complications.

In order to raise awareness of the challenges of preventing and managing diabetes in humanitarian settings, IDF has launched a multi-stakeholder initiative to encourage action, improve health services and ensure access to essential medicines for displaced people with diabetes.

Conflicts and disasters result in large-scale movements of populations. Their arrival into unprepared locations puts severe pressure on healthcare resources and poses a significant challenge. Health systems struggle to respond to the emergency and provide healthcare for the new arrivals and their existing population. Displaced people with diabetes may not be able to gain access to the medicines and supplies they need and emergency healthcare personnel are not always trained to deal with diabetes. This situation is compounded by disruption to food, water and utilities.

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Undiagnosed and poorly controlled diabetes
can lead to acute and life-threatening complications such as blindness, amputation, kidney failure, cardiovascular events and early death. Worldwide, IDF estimates that one in two people with diabetes are undiagnosed. People with diabetes in humanitarian settings face an even greater risk of under-diagnosis.

All too often, diabetes care is overlooked in the humanitarian response. Without concerted action at all levels, diabetes will continue to take a heavy toll on displaced populations, overwhelming health systems in countries most affected and hindering global efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring that no one is left behind.

Limited research has been conducted to assess the burden of diabetes among displaced people. Where studies have been undertaken, they suggest diabetes prevalence rates are higher than in the general population.

IDF calls on national governments, international organisations and donor organisations, civil society and the private sector to:

  • Guarantee uninterrupted access to diabetes medication and care for all displaced people with diabetes and integrate diabetes care as a key component of the humanitarian response.
  • Increase funding to strengthen health systems in areas with a high burden of displaced populations.
  • Generate data through screening and monitoring programmes to assess the exact burden of diabetes among forcibly displaced people.
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