By Sarah Gillam
(c) Malik Alymkulov/HelpAge International
"I discovered I had diabetes in 2008," said Semenistova Valentina Filipovna, 71, from Kyrgyzstan, "but I joined an older people’s group and found it really useful to check my blood sugar levels every week."
Valentina will be joining thousands of other older campaigners on World Health Day calling for diabetes, a leading cause of death globally, to be tackled early through screening, testing, treatment and education.
She will be one of many older people in more than 50 countries, taking part in HelpAge International’s Age Demands Action campaign this World Health Day (7 April). The campaign will bring older people together to draw attention to the health challenges they face.
Data on diabetes ignores older people
At least 9% of the world’s adults have diabetes, with 80% of the annual 1.5 million diabetes deaths occuring in low and middle-income countries.
Type 2 diabetes in particular is more prevalent in ageing populations, however, the extent to which older people are affected is still unclear.
"Much of the data on diabetes either ignores older people or doesn’t disaggregate by age," said Toby Porter, Chief Executive, HelpAge International.
All 193 UN member states signed up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals last September, committing to "ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages". The goals include a target on reducing mortality from non-communicable diseases.
"For countries to monitor the progress of these commitments, they need to gather comprehensive data on diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, disaggregated by age and sex," said Porter.
What is HelpAge doing to help beat diabetes?
In Kyrgyzstan, HelpAge International is encouraging older people to collect data and analyse government policies through training. Early diagnosis is crucial for preventing chronic health problems.
"Regular exercise, and a healthier diet that is low in sugar and salt, can help manage and reduce the symptoms. It can also reduce the risk of someone developing diabetes," said Rachel Albone, Health and Care Policy Adviser, HelpAge International.
"It can take a while for symptoms to show and when they do, people are often unaware of the implications or have difficulties accessing healthcare," she added.
HelpAge is working to strengthen the response to diabetes and other non-communicable diseases through screenings, and is training health staff in over 300 townships in Myanmar. We are also working with nutritionists in Jamaica to inform older people about healthy eating.
World Health Day activities
Among some of the activities on World Health Day, Age Demands Action campaigners will hand out information on diabetes at a “walk for your health” event in the Gambia, join a flash mob to draw attention to the impact of diabetes in Russia, and take part in a mini-marathon, pledging to stay active in Bangladesh.
New factsheet on diabetes in older people
What you can do
Follow the #WHD2016 #diabetes and #BeatNCDs discussions on social media.
See our photo blog on diabetes from Krygyzstan.
Make a donation to support our work to improve older people's health.