As people with diabetes have a higher risk of severe Covid-19 infections and death from the virus, experts said diabetic patients need to be extra careful, do regular physical activity and eat a balanced diet to stay safe.
They said the government should give priority to improving patients’ access to diabetes medicines, technologies and testing supplies in case there is a surge in Covid-19 infections in the country during the winter.
The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the people with diabetes. A recent government study found that around 39.1 percent or nearly four out of 10 people who died from Covid-19 had diabetes.
The study of National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine (NIPSOM) said some 61 percent of the deceased, who had diabetes, died within 14 days of contracting the virus.
A total of 1,016 Covid-19 patients were interviewed under the survey titled “Risk Factors Associated with Morbidity and Mortality: Outcomes of the Covid-19 Patients in Bangladesh”. It found that Covid-19 patients who had diabetes needed treatment beyond 28 days after getting infected.
“In the study, we found diabetes, lung diseases, and hypertension as the top three comorbidity risk factors for the death of Covid-19 patients,” Prof Md Ziaul Islam, head of the department of community medicine at NIPSOM, told The Daily Star.
Dr Md Faruk Pathan, a professor at the diabetes & endocrinology department at Birdem General Hospital in Dhaka, said Covid-19 poses three to four times higher risk to any diabetic patient than others. The risk increases further in the elderly diabetic patients.
“We have observed that the severity of diabetes increases when a diabetic patient gets novel coronavirus. Elderly Covid-19 patients [60 and above] with diabetes develop severe pneumonia and hypoxia rapidly,” he told this newspaper yesterday.
The experts voiced the concern on the eve of the World Diabetes Day today. This year, the Day is being observed during a global pandemic which has already claimed 6,159 lives and infected 428,965 people in the country.
The theme of the Day — “Diabetes: Nurses make the difference” — highlights the crucial role that nurses play in supporting people living with diabetes.
Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar, or glucose), or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. It is a major cause of kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and blindness.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy). Of them, some 90-95 percent diabetic patients have type-2 diabetes globally.
According to the Bangladesh Demographic Health Survey (BDHS) 2017-18, around 1.1 crore people aged 18 and above suffer from high blood sugar.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 6 percent of the world’s population has diabetes. The total number at present is four times what it was in 1980. The number is rising most rapidly in low- and middle-income countries, which are the least well-equipped to provide treatment, according to WHO.
Global studies found that diabetes increases the risk of severe illness and death among patients infected with the novel coronavirus.
Experts observed that maintaining discipline, taking prescribed diets and medicines and regular physical exercise are very important for diabetic patients.
Dr Faruk suggested all diabetic patients keep their blood sugar level under control.
“Taking insulin is better than oral medicine. Such patients should contact doctors regularly and it should obviously be via telemedicine.”
The physician said doing physical exercises indoors and eating a balanced diet are important parts of diabetes management.
Elderly diabetic patients should not go out of home during the pandemic unless it is an utmost necessity, he added.
Dr AKM Sarwarul Alam, director of Kuwait-Bangladesh Maitree Hospital, said, “We observed that death risk is higher among the elderly Covid-19 patients with diabetes than others.”
There is no alternative to maintaining health safety rules to stay safe from Covid-19 and it is more important for the elderly people and those with diabetes, he said.