World Health Day: ‘Beating diabetes’ in Bangladesh

World Health Day today has the overarching theme “Beat diabetes,” and with this focus the World Health Organization (WHO) aims to increase awareness about this disease, which has shown dramatic increase in low- and middle-income countries including Bangladesh.

Recent studies by icddr,b researchers have examined diabetes and related issues in Bangladesh and have shed light on the links between depression and diabetes, obesity and diabetes, and developed screening and management strategies for diabetes and depression in resource-poor settings.

Tackling risks from non-communicable diseases (NCD), particularly diabetes, in a resource-poor setting like Bangladesh is especially challenging. The International Diabetic Federation estimates that there are currently 5.9 million people with diabetes in Bangladesh. The number is 8.4 million people according to the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh, which estimates that only half are aware of having the disease.


Young people are often diagnosed with NCDs like diabetes. Photo: Shehzad Noorani / icddr,b

icddr,b’s research on NCDs aims to assess its burden in Bangladesh, current care practices and health-seeking behaviours. Studies in this area also aim to evaluate new interventions relevant to low-income countries to improve health outcomes and healthcare, with a major focus on cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Dr Aliya Naheed, head of icddr,b’s NCD initiative, says, “Our research in NCD has obtained momentum in terms of grants and collaborations that are expanding gradually to other areas, including strengthening the NCD services provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW). We are also developing  cost effective strategies for developing icddr,b’s Matlab Health and Demographic Surveillance work, in order to monitor  the burden of NCD and risk factors in the Matlab population.’’

Beating diabetes through lifestyle changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle, being diet-conscious and physically active, keeping weight in check could be key to controlling NCDs like diabetes and associated life threatening complications that many people are unaware about in Bangladesh.

“This is one of the reasons why diabetes has posed a greater threat of rapid increase in burden of NCD in Bangladesh,” says Dr Naheed.

With partnering organisations, Dr Naheed is going to lead a team of researchers from icddr,b to conduct a lifestyle intervention trial in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka  to assess its impact on the prevention of type 2 diabetes among South Asian women.  “Outcome of the trial aims to establish a strong evidence of the benefit of a low cost intervention and help policymakers to adopt necessary strategies for preventing diabetes and other NCDs in the region” says Dr Naheed.


Healthy lifestyle could help keep blood sugar in check. Photo by Shehzad Noorani / icddr,b

The study, in collaboration with All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), George Institute of Global Health,and University of Kelaniya, is being funded by National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) Grant (APP1093171) and an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The group is also conducting a research on risk factors of diabetic retinopathy, a complication that leads to blindness among individuals suffering from diabetes, and aims at developing strategies for prevention of a serious complication among diabetic patients in Bangladesh.

Broader Perspective: addressing the NCD burden in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has shown to perform poorly in reducing NCDs, revealed findings of a newly developed NCD scorecard. The findings, published in The Lancet last year, has shown the scorecard to have measured the performance of 23 low- and middle-income countries reducing their NCD burden.

Bangladeshi experts, who were interviewed for the scorecard, emphasised the need to establish a surveillance system for NCD to address rising prevalence of hypertension, diabetes and obesity in adults in the country.

Commenting on the Lancet editorial, Dr Naheed says, "Government should adopt the NCD scorecard for establishing a self-monitoring system to assess progress in various health sectors. Also, government should partner with internationally recognised research organisations and academic institutions for generating health and demographic data on an annual basis and conduct evaluation of various cost-effective solutions prior to scaling up NCD programs countrywide."

"The good news is that in recent times Bangladesh has made impressive progress in developing a 2016-2021 multi-sectoral plan for prevention and control of NCDs," she adds.