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On the road towards better control of the diabetes epidemic in Canada: Senator Mégie
July 30, 2021
image Marie-Françoise Mégie
Marie-Françoise Mégie
ISG - (Quebec - Rougemont)

This June, the Senate unanimously adopted Bill C-237 An Act to establish a national framework for diabetes — a bill put forward by Liberal member of Parliament Sonia Sidhu, which I sponsored in the Senate.

I was motivated to do so by my expertise with diabetic foot in seniors’ health and by the reality that the prevalence of diabetes in Canada is on the rise. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, it was estimated that 50% of young adults in this country would develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.

The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges for diabetes patients, but a national framework for disease could put the country on the road to better control of the diabetes epidemic.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, studies have shown diabetes is one of the major comorbidities associated with the development of undesirable, severe COVID-19-related adverse outcomes and death. Moreover, a new hypothesis is linking COVID-19 to the development of diabetes. Extensive research will be needed to determine whether there is a causal relationship. Canada is already participating in the global registry of COVID-19-related diabetes. We need to understand diabetes in COVID-19 patients and to establish the best approach for treatment and monitoring of affected people. Dr. Sathish Thirunavukkarasu, a medical doctor with a PhD in diabetes epidemiology and an investigator at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University, is the Canadian researcher tied to the global study. Dr. Thirunavukkarasu recently told CBC News that we really want to understand whether COVID-19 could play an important factor in driving this diabetes epidemic.

Diabetes accounts already for $30 billion in health-care costs in Canada. Some preliminary reports suggest that we are confronting a rise in diabetes-related complications due to disruptions to health care during COVID-19. For example, diabetic foot ulcers (DFU) and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) have increased because of decreased access to diabetes care and services. We need to get diabetes diagnostics, treatment and follow-ups back on track.

Diabetes Canada demonstrated that with a $150-million investment, Canada could save $20 billion in health-care costs and reduce over 770,000 new cases of diabetes. The cost is not only financial: it has a social and human toll.

The national framework for diabetes that comes from Bill C-237 must include measures to explain what diabetes and pre-diabetes mean to Canadians. We must also identify the training, guidance and education needs of health care and other professionals related to the prevention and treatment of diabetes including clinical practice guidelines. More funds must be allocated to promote research and improve data collection on diabetes prevention and treatment.

We shouldn’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, we must consider existing diabetes prevention and treatment frameworks, strategies and best practices including those that focus on addressing health inequalities. Finally, the Canada Revenue Agency must ensure tax credits are fairly accessible and designed to help as many persons with diabetes as possible. A national diabetes framework will help in many more ways.

Health issues have been front-page news for more than a year. We must seize the opportunity to foster lifestyle changes to turn the tide of diabetes in Canada. With daily press conferences, public health authorities have growing influence. They should reiterate current recommendations to help the one in four Canadians who live with pre-diabetes or diabetes.

The 2021 federal budget establishes a national framework for diabetes including additional investments in research. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, a Nobel Prize-winning accomplishment by Canadian researchers that has helped to save millions of lives. Hopes are high to find a cure sooner than later.

Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie represents the Rougemont division of Quebec in the Senate.

A similar version of this article appeared in the July 8, 2021 edition of The Hill Times.