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Diabetes levels “unsustainable” says health minister

by CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

The Portuguese health minister warned last week that levels of diabetes in the country are already unsustainable.

Addressing business and health professionals at the International Club of Portugal (ICPT) on Wednesday, Paulo Macedo said that diabetes was “one of the greatest challenges today” for society and the Portuguese National Health Service (SNS).

The number of people with diabetes that go undiagnosed and unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles and eating habits are behind the worrying statistics where one in 10 are likely to develop some degree of diabetes in their lifetime.

Concerns were also echoed by the annual report from the National Diabetes Observatory, which was presented in Lisbon last week and suggested that “prevention” was better than cure.

Health Minister Paulo Macedo (left) with the President of the International Club of Portugal, Manuel Ramalho. Photo: CHRIS GRAEME
Health Minister Paulo Macedo (left) with the President of the International Club of Portugal, Manuel Ramalho. Photo: CHRIS GRAEME

The health minister said the impact of diabetes – which he referred to as an epidemic – on society and the health service budget was significant.

“We’re not talking solely about its impact on costs, a part that could be saved could go on prevention campaigns,” he said.

According to the latest data published by the observatory, direct costs from treating diabetes in 2010 stood at between €1.1 billion and €1.3 billion, an increase of €100 million in relation to 2010.

According to the International Federation of Diabetes, in 2010, the illness represented a cost of €1.8 billion or, as the health minister pointed out, “1% of the nation’s GDP and 11% of the total health budget.”

Paulo Macedo stressed that the “prevention programmes were not just words but effective tests”. “The number of people with undiagnosed diabetes is extremely worrying,” he said.

The minister also said it was important to diagnose the disease at an early stage and prevent the disease where possible by changing diet and lifestyle habits and taking regular exercise.

The prevalence and gravity of diabetes had increased in recent years as well as the mortality rate associated with the disease.

Paulo Macedo said that the diabetes observatory report was “very important” for the Ministry of Health so that it could continue to define strategies in the fight against the illness.

“The fight against this disease doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the Health Ministry, but on the whole of society; it’s a fight we’ve all got to take on,” he added.

The health minister also said that the Government would pay off part of its €3 billion debt to pharmaceutical and health service suppliers in April.

Paulo Macedo admitted that the sector’s debt had ballooned at a “hallucinating rate” of €800 million per annum.

“The State has to ensure that these debts do not get repeated,” said the minister, adding that the pharmaceutical sector needed to change its rules at a business level to avoid “aggressive sales”.

Praising the SNS (National Health Service), which he said had been overall successful in its 30 years history, the health minister said it was the only model that could secure universal health care.

Comparing the health service with the insurance-led private health sector, Paulo Macedo said that total expenditure on health had reached 10% of GDP in Portugal which was in line with other countries in Europe.

However, an aging population brought more expenses associated with illnesses. Expenses had increased even more given the falling birth rate (read related story on page 17), which meant less taxes and national insurance contributions.

“The biggest problem facing the SNS,” said Paulo Macedo, was “an excessive expenditure compared with falling receipts”.

One way of counteracting this was cutting back on wasted resources and badly spent money which one study suggested could be as much as €800 million per annum.

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