Survey: Malaysians still do not fully understand diabetes despite being ‘sweetest nation in Asia’

Recent survey finds that Malaysians do not have adequate knowledge about diabetes. —  AzmanJaka/Istock.com pic via AFP
Recent survey finds that Malaysians do not have adequate knowledge about diabetes. — AzmanJaka/Istock.com pic via AFP

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 16 ― Malaysia has the highest number of people living with diabetes in Asia with a one-in-five ratio.

Despite ranking the top prevalence rate in the region however, it appears that Malaysians do not fully understand the disease and its consequential health complications.

The inaugural Malaysian Diabetes Index (MDI), which polled 2,539 respondents recently found that there is still a huge awareness gap on diabetes among Malaysians.

Presenting the findings, senior consultant endocrinologist Prof Dr Chan Siew Pheng said in a webinar that more than half (52 per cent) of respondents do not know that diabetes cannot be cured.

Dr Chan noted that 51 per cent thought that diabetes isn’t a difficult illness to manage.

“What was more astonishing was that about one in three respondents (37 per cent) with diabetes was clear what determines abnormal blood sugar levels.”

Dr Chan, who is also Malaysian Endocrine and Metabolic Society (Mems) president, said one in three respondents believed that just cutting down on sugar is enough to control diabetes.

According to her, that’s a false belief as it takes a multidisciplinary approach to control diabetes with medication, diet and lifestyle changes.

Dr Chan said there were good levels of awareness on diabetes-related complications, however, the deadliest complications remained the least known.

“When it comes to diabetes complications, amputation is top-of-mind as 95 per cent are aware that it can happen to someone with diabetes.

“But, while heart complications are the deadliest out of all, they happen to be the least known among the locals.”

She said people living with diabetes are twice more likely to die from heart disease than other health problems.

Lack of clear knowledge on diabetes among Malaysians may negatively affect the way they manage their condition. ― Picture courtesy of Dr Chan
Lack of clear knowledge on diabetes among Malaysians may negatively affect the way they manage their condition. ― Picture courtesy of Dr Chan

Highlighting the latest statistic on the causes of deaths in patients with Type 2 diabetes, Dr Chan said 66.3 per cent of cases were due to cardiovascular complications and 33.7 per cent were non-heart related which included, cancer (13.9 per cent), infection (9.3) and kidney failure (1.9 per cent).

Other complications that respondents were aware of, included eye damage (93 per cent), kidney damage (90 per cent), and nerve damage (84 per cent).

Although the respondents fell short in having adequate knowledge on some areas, Dr Chan said most of them were well aware of the contributing factors to developing diabetes.

“Half of the respondents knew that obesity, lack of exercise, high-calorie diet and family history were the leading causes of diabetes.

“However, despite knowing the factors, one in two respondents said they didn’t do anything to prevent themselves from developing diabetes.”

Summing up the survey result, Dr Chan said Malaysians have a general knowledge of diabetes, but there are still gaps in understanding the disease.

To bridge the gap, she said diabetes should be taken more seriously by people, especially those who know they are at risk of developing diabetes.

The MDI was a community initiative supported by biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in partnership with Mems.

It took place online between April 12 and May 9, 2021, with the support of several pharmacies and media partners.

The survey was aimed at obtaining a baseline of Malaysia’s awareness level and also to identify key knowledge gaps.

To educate the public that diabetes is not just about sugar alone, AstraZeneca in partnership with Mems have launched an awareness campaign dubbed Beyond Sugar.

AstraZeneca Malaysia country president Dr Sanjeev Panchal said the campaign would enable them to address the awareness gaps and also encourage people to get checked and know their sugar levels status.

“Through early disease management, we can delay complications and ensure early diagnosis and referral to ultimately improve the standard of care for people living with diabetes.”

The campaign kicked off with a microsite that contains information and resources about diabetes, diabetes management tips, and also the full MDI report.

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