Diverting diabetes epidemic requires intervention of all Albertans

When it comes to diabetes in Alberta, an epidemic is imminent.

In 10 years we will be facing a major health challenge in this province if we do not engage in widespread personal and societal change. This is the frank warning contained in the Canadian Diabetes Association’s recent report and announcement of the Alberta Diabetes Cost Model.

The numbers are daunting. Today, the cost of diabetes in Alberta stands at $1.1 billion annually. If no progress is made to curb these rising costs, the total cost is projected to rise 43% to $1.6 billion by 2020. Alberta is looking at a 67% increase in diabetes diagnoses – the highest rate increase in Canada.

By 2020, it is estimated that about 8.6% of the current population of Alberta or 363,000 people will be living with diabetes.

Without action, the cost and prevalence of diabetes in the province will continue to increase substantially. This growing burden not only threatens the health of Albertans, it also threatens the economic prosperity that Albertans have worked so hard to achieve.

A new approach to diabetes in our province must strongly focus on the needs of people living with the disease. The human and economic costs are enormous – and it is not just a burden that is shouldered by the healthcare system. The average out-of-pocket expense for a person living with diabetes in Alberta is just over $2,052 annually. This represents almost 7% of their yearly income.

Gaps in access to diabetes medications, devices and supplies must be eliminated. We know that 57% of people living with diabetes can’t afford to comply with their prescribed diabetes management program. As a result, many of these people end up developing serious complications, leading to poor health, increased mortality and significantly increased costs to the health system and our economy.

Since the Alberta Diabetes Strategy was formed and funded by the provincial government in 2003, there have been important advances in diabetes in Alberta. And while in recent years Alberta has provided access to some newer diabetes medications, significant gaps in access remain. The Canadian Diabetes Association is calling on the government of Alberta to close this gap and begin providing better access to diabetes medicines, blood glucose test strips and insulin pumps in order to prevent or delay costly diabetes complications.

To its credit, the government of Alberta has acknowledged that more needs to be done to address this growing epidemic and has indicated a willingness to work with the Canadian Diabetes Association to close this gap.

We applaud the government for its commitment, and we will continue to work together to achieve meaningful results for Albertans.

However, diabetes is not a problem that can be fixed by government alone. The burden of diabetes is so immense that the engagement and support of the private sector, communities and individual Albertans are required if we are to reverse this coming epidemic.

The evidence is clear: we are facing an epidemic in Alberta – it is a substantial threat that is getting worse. We are at an important crossroads in the fight against diabetes, and it is critical that we take action today. For more information on how you can help, visit diabetes.ca or call 1-800-BANTING (226-8464).

Michael Cloutier

President and CEO, Canadian Diabetes Association