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New Diabetes Australia report reveals dramatic jump in diabetes costs for economy

A new Diabetes Australia (DA) report has revealed the spiralling impact of diabetes and warned that unless urgent action is taken, the condition – and complications like vision loss – will threaten to overwhelm the country’s health system.

In the last two decades, the report revealed the disease’s significant burden on the Australian economy, in terms of the cost of direct healthcare (up 289%), hospital costs (up 308%) and medicines (up 282%), while hospitalisations have increased by 149% since 2004.

Justine Cain.

Looking ahead, Diabetes Australia (DA) is warning that the number of people living with diabetes could climb to more than 3.1 million by 2050, resulting in 2.5 million hospitalisations per year and costing Australia around $45 billion per annum.

To coincide with World Diabetes Day on 14 November, the organisation released its Change the Future: Reducing the impact of the diabetes epidemic, which it described as “a call-to-arms to combat the diabetes epidemic”.

Diabetes Australia Group CEO Ms Justine Cain said the report looked at the best available evidence to assess the significant burden of diabetes and identified a number of areas of concern.

“Diabetes Australia is particularly concerned about the number of people currently living with diabetes, the increase in younger Australians being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the impact of diabetes on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, rising numbers of mothers being diagnosed with gestational diabetes and the emergence of a number of recently identified complications,” Cain said

“More than a million Australians have been diagnosed in the past decade, along with 500,000 people currently living with silent, undiagnosed diabetes, and all of these people are at risk of developing diabetes-related complications in the future.”

During the past decade, Cain said Australia had also seen a 37% increase in the number of younger Australians (aged <39 or under) being diagnosed with diabetes. There are more than 42,000 people in this cohort living with type 2 diabetes and for many of these people, the condition is more severe with a greater risk of complications.

“Australia’s rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diabetes are some of the highest in the world. In particular, Central Australia has the highest rates in the world,” she said.

“Over the past decade we’ve also seen staggering growth in the number of mothers being diagnosed with gestational diabetes and we anticipate that up to half-a-million mothers who have had GDM will develop type 2 diabetes.

“Of concern, we are also seeing a range of recently identified, serious diabetes-related complications that are resulting in hospitalisations. While diabetes has long been established as a leading cause of vision loss, limb amputation, heart disease, kidney failure and dementia, we are now seeing increasing numbers of people being hospitalised with diabetes-related cellulitis, mental health challenges and iron deficient anaemia.”

Cain said that despite the size of the problem, Australia had the resources and expertise to meet the challenges of the epidemic.

“The diabetes epidemic is one of the most significant health challenges Australia has ever faced and it calls for unified and sustained action,” shje said.

“That’s why we are asking Australia’s political leaders, the health sector, the business community and everyday Australians to join us in changing the trajectory of this epidemic to create a healthier future.

According to Cain, the Australian National Diabetes Strategy 2021 – 2030 has been endorsed by federal and state governments, with attention now focused on implementation.

“The strategy is full of cost-effective, evidence-based policies, initiatives and reforms that can drive real change – that just need to be implemented,” Cain added. “The time to act is now.”

International Diabetes Federation vice-president and University of Sydney Professor Stephen Colagiuri AO said the report painted a gloomy picture of the Australian diabetes epidemic over the past two decades.

“The diabetes epidemic in Australia shows no sign of slowing and its health and economic impact continues to be felt by people with diabetes, their families and the broader community,” Colagiuri said.

“However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Australia has an excellent foundation for limiting the impact of diabetes including universal health coverage and the world-leading National Diabetes Services Scheme as well as well trained and dedicated health professionals.”

Key facts from the Diabetes Australia report

  • Diabetes is forecast to cost Australia around $45 billion per annum by 2050
  • More than 3.1 million Australians will be living with diabetes by 2050 – that’s around one in every 12 Australians
  • There has been a 220% increase in the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in Australia since 2000
  • Two million Australians are at risk of developing diabetes-related complications in the next 20 years
  • 42,131 Australians aged 39 and under are currently living with type 2 diabetes. That’s an increase of 37% over the past decade
  • 1,155 children and young people are living with type 2 diabetes. That’s increased by 14% over the past decade, however 30 years ago this was virtually unheard of.
  • Around 40% of adults in Central Australia are living with type 2 diabetes – the highest in the world.

More reading

Health minister heeds ophthalmologist’s call for type 2 diabetes prevention

World-leading rates of youth-onset type 2 diabetes revealed in northern Australia

Shifting the dial on diabetes-related blindness

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