November 14, 2018

World Diabetes Day

World Diabetes Day is observed on November 14 every year in commemoration of Sir Frederick Banting, one of the co-discoverers of insulin, whose birthday falls on the same date. The theme for World Diabetes Day 2018-19 campaign is “The Family and Diabetes”. Its aims are to raise awareness on the impact of diabetes on the family, and to promote the role of the family in the management, care, prevention and education of diabetes.

Diabetes is a major health concern in Malaysia. The National Diabetes Institute, Malaysia (NADI) Executive Chairman, Datuk Dr. Mustaffa Embong stated that Malaysia has the highest diabetes rate in Asia, and one of the highest in the world. The number of Malaysian adults aged 18 and above with diabetes stands at around 2.6 million.

What is the pancreas and how does it control blood sugar level?

The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. The beta cells of the pancreas produce the hormone insulin. Insulin promotes the absorption of sugar from the blood into the body’s cells to use up as energy or to store as fat. This lowers the blood sugar level.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, in which the insulin-producing pancreatic cells are attacked by the body’s own immune system. People with type 1 diabetes are incapable of producing insulin (or produce very little of it) and must take regular insulin injections to control the blood sugar level.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body loses its ability to respond to insulin. The body may compensate by releasing more insulin, but it does not always produce enough. In some cases, the pancreas may stop producing insulin altogether due to beta cell failure. Type 2 diabetes comprises the majority of diabetes cases, and is commonly diagnosed in adulthood. It may be managed through regular exercise, meal planning, medications and/or insulin injections.

Living with uncontrolled diabetes increases risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, eye problems which may lead to blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, anxiety, nerve damage and erectile dysfunction. Nevertheless, one in two persons currently living with diabetes remain undiagnosed.

Spotting the signs of diabetes

Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, increased hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, frequent infections and slow-healing sores.

Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to prevent any complications. If you or any of your family members develop these symptoms, do consult a doctor. However, some individuals may not experience any symptoms at the beginning.

How does diabetes affect family?

Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable by regular physical activity and a well-balanced diet. Poor family lifestyle (e.g. unhealthy diet and physical inactivity) contributes to an increased risk of diabetes for the whole family.

Furthermore, diabetes is a potentially expensive disease. In many countries, costs for treatments such as insulin injection and daily monitoring can take up a sizable chunk of a family’s disposable income.

How can we do our part?

  • Know the risk factors: Identify the risk factors of diabetes present in yourselves or your family members and learn what you can do to prevent diabetes.
  • Get screened for diabetes: Encourage family and friends to get screened for diabetes.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Encourage your family to eat well-balanced meals and to be active. Good habits begin from home.
  • Support family members who are undergoing diabetes care: Family support has positive effects on the health outcomes of diabetic individuals.
  • Get educated: Ongoing diabetes education for diabetic individuals and their families promotes better awareness and medication adherence.


  1. International Diabetes Federation. WDD 2018 campaign toolkit. Available at Accessed on 12 November 2018.
  2. International Diabetes Federation. World Diabetes Day 2018-19. Available at Accessed on 12 November 2018.
  3. National Health And Morbidity Survey 2011. Non-communicable diseases – Volume II. Available at Accessed on 14 November 2018.
  4. Diabetes Canada. Types of diabetes. Available at Accessed on 13 November 2018.
  5. Mayo Clinic. Diabetes. Available at Accessed on 13 November 2018.
  6. Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2. Available at Accessed on 13 November 2018.
  7. Hussein Z, Taher SW, Singh HK, Swee WC. Diabetes care in Malaysia: Problems, new models, and solutions. Ann Glob Health. 2015;81(6):851-62.