It is now recognized that it is the developing countries that presently face the greatest burden of diabetes. However, many governments and public health planners still remain largely unaware of the current magnitude, or, more importantly, the future potential for increases in diabetes and its serious complications in their own countries.
Diabetes is now one of the most common non-communicable diseases globally. It is the fourth or fifth leading cause of death in most developed countries and there is substantial evidence that it is epidemic in many developing and newly industrialized nations. Complications from diabetes, such as coronary artery and peripheral vascular disease, stroke, diabetic neuropathy, amputations, renal failure and blindness are resulting in increasing disability, reduced life expectancy and enormous health costs for virtually every society. Diabetes is certain to be one of the most challenging health problems in the 21st century.
The number of studies describing the epidemiology of diabetes over the last 20 years has been extraordinary. It is now recognized that it is the developing countries that presently face the greatest burden of diabetes. However, many governments and public health planners still remain largely unaware of the current magnitude, or, more importantly, the future potential for increases in diabetes and its serious complications in their own countries.
This section presents estimates of the prevalence of diabetes mellitus for 215 countries and territories for the years 2007 and 2025, which should provide some concept of the current and likely future burden. It also provides a review of studies which allow an estimate of the proportion of cases of diabetes that are undiagnosed.
The data presented should be cautiously interpreted as general indicators of diabetes frequency, and the estimates will need to be revised as new and better epidemiological information becomes available. When reporting data in this form, various assumptions need to be made that give rise to a number of limitations. Caution should be used when interpreting data and their limitations will be discussed further throughout the text.
Comparison of country, regional, and even global rates from one report to the next can be misleading and should be performed with extreme caution. Large changes in the prevalence or numbers of people with diabetes from one edition of the Diabetes Atlas to another are usually due to the use of a more recent study rather than a genuine change in the profile of diabetes within that country. Thus, the inclusion of recent, and more reliable research brings us closer to the actual rates of diabetes, but also brings with it dangers in comparing global reports and estimates over time. These limitations need to always be considered, and the reader must realize that the key purpose of reports such as these is to stimulate action in the form of preventive and management programmes, as well as further research.