Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Diabetes a 'South Asian time-bomb'

Diabetes sufferer Madhur Hussein
Diabetes sufferer Madhur Hussein has lost a hand, his feet and his eyesight

A new diabetes centre in Birmingham is aiming to tackle the rising number of cases in the South Asian community.

One in four kidney dialysis patients in the city are from the community, according to figures obtained by BBC Inside Out West Midlands.

Experts fear more young people will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, linked to Western diet and minimal exercise.

Doctors say they fear the current epidemic could soon turn into a pandemic if nothing is done.

The average UK life expectancy for a white male is 81 years, but just 65 for a South Asian man, figures show.

You think, 'it won't affect me', but it does
Diabetes sufferer Madhur Hussein

The illness is a hormone disorder that can cause problems with the kidneys, legs and feet, eyes, heart, nerves, and blood flow.

If left untreated it can lead to kidney failure, amputation, blindness, or a stroke.

Type 2 diabetes is typically found in adults and is largely caused by obesity, but teenagers and children are now being diagnosed with it.

Some doctors blame genes, a high fat diet and a lack of exercise for the dramatically higher prevalence of the disease among people from South Asia.

That is distinct from type 1 diabetes - a disease where the body is unable to produce insulin.

It typically starts in childhood or early adulthood and is treated with diet control and insulin injections.

It is not known what causes type 1 diabetes, although there is evidence to suggest it may be inherited and possibly linked to other illnesses.

The new centre at Heartlands Hospital wants to be the "first prong" in aggressively treating type 2 diabetes- the so-called health time-bomb.

Dr Wasim Hanif, from the South Asian Health Foundation and Heartlands Hospital, told Inside Out West Midlands the condition was moving through the community at an alarming rate.

'No pleasure'

"What we are talking about today is an epidemic which can soon turn into a pandemic if we don't do anything about it.

"If you're a South Asian between the ages of 25 and 75, the prevalence of diabetes is now about 20%.

"This is compared to about 4% in the whole community so… the risk of having diabetes is at least five times greater."

Diabetes sufferer Madhur Hussein, from Birmingham, has lost his feet and eyesight, had his hand amputated and suffered kidney failure since his diagnosis more than 20 years ago.

Cooking a curry
The South Asian community is particularly at risk, doctors warn

"I had a very good life before I had these problems… but as you see there's no pleasure, no pleasure," he said.

"You feel sorry for everything but there's no life and [it is] especially a problem for all your family.

"You don't feel it [diabetes]. It's very slow poison.

"It's not affecting you straight away. It will take a long time.

"You think, 'it won't affect me', but it does."

Professor Anthony Barnett, clinical director at Heartlands, said as more younger people in their 20s and 30s are being diagnosed with the condition, the issues "go to the heart of public health".

"I think the food industry perhaps has not always been as receptive as it should be to helping with some of these," he said.

He said the government should spend more money on health messages to help tackle the problem.

"This new diabetes centre and research facility is an incredibly important development within Birmingham and the surrounding area," he added.

"The diabetes centre itself will be the first prong of what we wish to achieve in really aggressively treating diabetes from the point of view of helping our patients reduce the risk of long-term complications."

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