Community-based approaches to diabetes
Diabetes is a global health threat. Three EU-funded projects are testing community-based approaches to prevention and management of the disease in Europe, Asia and Africa.
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In line with a call for action by the World Health Organization, the EU is targeting diabetes as a global health emergency. Each year around 1.5 million people worldwide die from the disease, 627 000 of them in Europe.
An estimated 60 million people in the EU have diabetes – 9 out of 10 have ‘Type 2’, a preventable form of the disease. Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body’s ineffective use of insulin. Most cases can be attributed to excess body weight, a lack of physical activity and the effects of ageing.
EU research funding supports more effective efforts to prevent the disease and treat patients. Projects such as Feel4Diabetes, iHealth-T2D and SMART2D target prevention and treatment strategies, both here and in other countries.
The projects are in line with the priorities set by the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) partnership, of which the Commission is a member. GACD has called on members to focus research on low- and middle-income countries, and on vulnerable populations in high income countries.
A family-based programme
Feel4Diabetes is developing a community-based programme for families vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes. The project is targeting a well-known risk factor – people with Type 2 diabetes tend to come from a family with a history of the disease.
This risk is attributed to family members sharing a common genetic background as well as lifestyle habits and similar social and physical environments. Feel4Diabetes researchers plan to identify vulnerable families in six countries. Two are high-income countries (Belgium and Finland), two are experiencing an economic crisis (Greece and Spain), and two are low-to-middle income countries (Bulgaria and Hungary). They note that the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is higher in low and middle income countries and in low socioeconomic groups in high-income countries.
The researchers plan to develop low-cost diabetes-prevention programmes in schools and with community-based groups. They will include, among other objectives, encouraging healthy lifestyle changes for parents and other family members.
The researchers will also invite parents and other adult family members to participate in out-of-school counselling sessions to encourage them to adopt healthier lifestyles.
The project plans to produce recommendations for health policymakers based on this research.
A focus on South Asian communities
iHealth-T2D will also target vulnerable families. The project is developing a new approach to preventing Type 2 diabetes in South Asian communities. South Asians, who make up one-quarter of the world’s population, are at high risk of Type 2 diabetes.
The project will conduct studies in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and in the UK. Participants will include family members who are overweight or show signs of being pre-diabetic.
The aim is to develop a low-cost programme that encourages participants to adopt healthier diets and become more physically active. They will be assessed over three years to determine whether the programme works to reduce their risk of getting Type-2 diabetes.
The project will use focus groups, together with the experience and knowledge of local leaders and local experts, to develop approaches that are culturally appropriate, acceptable, sustainable and scalable amongst all segments of South Asian communities.
The results will feed into advice for policymakers on implementing similar programmes.
Approaches for African countries
SMART2D is examining ways to help African countries prevent Type 2 diabetes. The incidence of diabetes is forecast to increase dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa, with the potential to overwhelm health systems, the project notes.
Encouraging community-based health care could help provide patients and those at risk with better care and more access, the project’s researchers believe.
The project is currently developing programmes to prevent and manage diabetes in three settings: a rural community in a low-income country (Uganda), an urban township in a middle-income country (South Africa), and vulnerable immigrant groups in a high-income country (Sweden).
The programme aims to empower communities to use and develop existing networks and services to prevent and manage the disease. The researchers will use their research to develop recommendations for policymakers.
SMART2D Project details
iHealth-T2D Project details
Feel4Diabetes Project details