Diabetes Costs China $26 Billion a Year, Researchers Find

China’s diabetes-related medical costs, estimated at 173.4 billion yuan ($26 billion) annually, will skyrocket in 10 to 20 years as 100 million sufferers seek treatment and care for related ailments such as kidney failure, stroke and blindness, health officials said.

Diabetes accounts for about 13 percent of medical expenditures in China, the International Diabetes Federation said in a statement distributed before a media briefing in Beijing today to mark World Diabetes Day. The finding is based on preliminary data from a nationwide survey completed in August.

China’s diabetics report three to four times more hospitalizations, out-patient and emergency-room visits than people without the condition, scientists from the Brussels-based federation and the Chinese Diabetes Society said. Their research follows a March study that showed China has 92.4 million people with diabetes, more than twice as many as previously estimated, and the most in the world.

“Diabetes prevalence is skyrocketing in China and people are getting diabetes at a younger age,” the federation said. “China has a window of real opportunity to prevent an epidemic of serious diabetes complications, which will increase spending dramatically.”

China will have lost $558 billion of national income to diabetes and heart disease between 2005 and 2015, the World Health Organization and World Economic Forum said in a 2008 report. Smoking, dietary changes and sedentary lifestyles are stoking a surge in heart disease and stroke in China that will kill an additional 7.7 million people over the next two decades, researchers at New York’s Columbia University said in May.

Stroke, Blindness

Medical costs related to diabetes will “increase rapidly” over the next two decades as about 50 million undiagnosed Chinese seek care, and as they and 50 million Chinese whose illness has been identified start developing preventable complications such as stroke, blindness and kidney disease, the federation said today.

Health expenditures for people in China who’ve had diabetes for at least a decade are more than fivefold those for patients who have had the condition for one to two years, it said.

Fewer than 5 percent of Chinese people with diabetes have experienced stroke, heart attack and heart failure, and fewer than 5 percent report kidney disease, eye surgery, or problems with their feet or legs, according to the survey results. About 5,000 people were interviewed between January 2008 and August 2010 in 12 sites for the nationally representative study. The early results are based on 1,920 responses from five sites.

While half the people interviewed use blood glucose-lowering drugs, only 1 percent use medicines for cholesterol and 13 percent take aspirin to prevent stroke.

“These unused drugs are inexpensive and highly effective and can together lower the risk of complications by 50 percent or more,” the federation said.

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