Soaring Diabetes Rates in the South Asian Community

21/11/2012 15:50 GMT | Updated 21/01/2013 10:12 GMT

As a diabetologist working in one of Britain's biggest cities I see hundreds of new patients every year.

People whose lives are blighted by type 2 diabetes brought on by a whole host of factors but often caused by sedentary lifestyles and being overweight, their condition worsened by poor eating habits and ignorance of diabetes.

If trends continue, by 2025 five million Britons will have diabetes. That's 400 new patients every day and a disproportionate number will be people of South Asian origin.

South Asians are six times more likely to develop diabetes than their white, European neighbours. One in five over the age of 25 already have diabetes. As someone of Indian origin it's my genetic make-up, as much as any life style choices, that puts me and my South Asian patients at greater risk of diabetes.

This elevated risk is compounded by the fact that many South Asians know little about diabetes, how to prevent it and the condition carries a stigma within most communities. If they already have diabetes, many do not know how to manage it so they live as healthy a life as possible or where to get informtion. In South Birmingham, where I work, less than 5% of South Asians with diabetes get any kind of validated diabetes education.

Knowing this has spurred me and my colleagues in the health advocacy group, the South Asian Health Foundation, to develop grassroots diabetes health education tailored for Britain's diverse South Asian communities.

Last year the Foundation launched 'SACHE Diabetes'. SACHE, in Hindustani, means 'truth' and we took the truth about diabetes out to the UK's South Asian communities.

The Foundation delivered a uniform educational programme, but tailored for each community, in temples, mosques and gurdwaras from Birmingham to Glasgow. In most cases, the programme was delivered in multiple languages by locally trusted healthcare professionals, who often come from the communities served.

We provided factual information and attempted to dispel myths and address the stigmatisation related to diabetes in these communities in the 10 sessions we ran, which reached more than 800 people.

The reception at these programmes was amazing and we were able to get the whole family involved. We also screened for diabetes and in Bromsgrove nearly 75% of people where referred to their GP with a risk of diabetes that they had been unaware of.

Working on it confirmed many of the things me and my colleagues knew from daily practice. People of South Asian origin are fearful about diabetes and largely ignorant about it, but they are not what health education professionals call 'hard to reach'. It's more conventional health promotion programmes do not know how to reach out to these communities.

My colleague Dr Kiran Patel, chair of the Foundation's trustees, told the Health Select Committee that you cannot tackle health inequalities by having an equitable health service for all. For some communities it is necessary to present information that is relevant to their culture.

The SACHE diabetes programme has shown it is possible to engage and raise awareness of diabetes in the South Asian community but to be successful it has to be delivered in a culturally sensitive way. I'm sure that the messages delivered have been received and acted on by many of the individuals at high risk of diabetes we met. We hope to reach many more British Asians over the coming months to reduce their risk of diabetes and make an impact on the health of the nation.