Down with diabetes: PodTech™’s solution to a growing global problem


Excessive thirst, the need to urinate frequently, tiredness, weight loss, blurred vision. The onset of symptoms like these often indicates the development of diabetes and a lifetime of managing high blood glucose and related health issues. Think kidney failure, stroke, heart attacks.


A universal problem?


In 2021, 529 million people across the world were living with this condition. Across regions, countries, income levels, and ages. North Africa and the Middle East were home to the highest age-standardised diabetes rates, with Qatar ranking at the very top of the list. A large proportion of these diabetes cases were type 2 diabetes, sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes, though increasingly, children are also getting diagnosed with it.


Unfortunately, things aren’t looking up. Published in The Lancet in 2023, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded study projected diabetes prevalence through 2050. They projected that by 2050, over 1.31 billion people will likely have diabetes. Two super regions, each with unique health sector challenges, are expected to see the worst of the situation. North Africa and the Middle East are projected to have an age-standardised total diabetes prevalence rate of 16.8%. In Latin America and the Caribbean, that number is estimated to stand at 11.3%.


Astoundingly, after the next two and a half decades, 89 of 204 countries and territories will have age-standardised rates north of 10%. Every country in the world will see an increase in diabetes cases. Some countries will have diabetes prevalence rates as high as 20%. In the regions hit worst, older adults will likely bear the lion’s share of this burden.


The primary drivers of diabetes


This growth in diabetes prevalence worldwide will be characterised largely by an increase in type 2 diabetes. People’s bodies aren’t always able to regulate blood glucose levels very well as they age, so ageing populations will be a major factor underlining the growth of the diabetes disease burden. Increases in obesity will be the other major driving factor. In fact, in 2021, obesity was the most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes – it accounted for over 50% of deaths and disability from the disease.


The preventable nature of type 2 diabetes


Type 1 diabetes used to be referred to as insulin-dependent or childhood-onset diabetes. The causes and modes of preventing this autoimmune condition aren’t well understood. Further, managing type 1 diabetes involves daily insulin administration. Nonetheless, most type 1 cases are seen in high-income countries. Additionally, type 1 diabetes accounts for a much smaller portion of the diabetes pie compared to type 2.


Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is preventable and even reversible in some cases. This means that the diabetes burden in the future doesn’t have to be as dire as predicted.


Diabetes is easily diagnosed via fairly inexpensive blood tests. Early screening is key.


Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or even prevented through a healthy lifestyle – a balanced diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, and avoiding other risk factors, like tobacco consumption.


For people who’ve already developed type 2 diabetes, insulin injections and/or medicines like metformin, sulfonylureas, and SGLT-2 inhibitors can help.


The availability of such diverse interventions is ample proof that the future of the diabetes burden doesn’t have to be intractable. However, managing increases in diabetes prevalence will require targeted interventions by not only individuals but also public health organisations and governments.


Diabetes as a public health crisis


Obesity, the primary risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, is caused by several factors. These factors differ by diet, lifestyle, culture and customs, and other factors which are often beyond individual control. For this reason, diabetes should be considered a public health challenge rather than a disease that individuals must fight on their own.


To prevent and control type 2 diabetes at the population level, it is important that the responsible authorities understand population risk profiles and the unique diabetes burden in their country or region. A nuanced, contextual understanding can help them devise targeted strategies to control the growth of diabetes drivers and disease prevalence successfully.


Unfortunately, people who live with diabetes are also at higher risk of developing and sometimes dying from other major diseases and conditions. This includes vision loss, foot ulcers, stroke, and ischaemic heart disease. As obesity rates increase, with no sustainable population level reductions, diabetes and related conditions add to the stresses of healthcare systems.


The socioeconomics of diabetes


Lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes are often considered as conditions afflicting only the wealthy. But that notion couldn’t be further from the truth.


Preventing and managing diabetes are matters of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is often a matter of complex social and economic dynamics. Low income, low levels of education, and urban living all lead to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research has revealed that due to colonisation and the resultant disruptions to traditional ways of life, indigenous people around the world are disproportionately affected by diabetes. To make matters worse, a study has discovered that less than 10% of people living with diabetes in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have access to holistic treatment options for diabetes.


Enter PodTech™


The projections of diabetes prevalence in The Lancet study are dismal. But they don’t have to be true. The first step towards tackling diabetes is understanding the disease, its risk factors, the obstacles to its prevention and management, and the socio-economic factors at play.


Inexpensive testing methods already exist. Medical interventions already exist. Now, it’s time to bring these interventions to the people who need them the most.


This is the vision with which PodTech™ was born – to bring basic and cutting-edge biopharma solutions to every corner of the world. To ensure that no one suffers or dies from preventable diseases. To counter global and regional imbalances in health equity.


The non-communicable disease burden in LMICs is significant and growing. Diabetes is a large part of that, hampering people’s quality of life. But with PodTech™, entrepreneurs, governments, and multi-national corporations can be part of the solution to the diabetes problem.


PodTech™’s podules™ are pre-fabricated and self-contained units enclosed within shipping containers. They each have an operational lifespan of about two decades while setting them up is a highly rapid and streamlined process. The speed and simplicity of this process mean that wherever people need interventions to fight diabetes, they can have a podule™ up and running within a short amount of time. Be it to produce diagnostics, medicines, or other biopharma products, you could start operations in as little as half the time needed to set up a traditional biopharma factory.


Prefabricated construction is already a common concept in the West. There is no reason why you shouldn’t bring this to LMICs, to regions worst afflicted by diverse health burdens, to solve their most pressing problems. Sometimes, this may seem tough, unachievable. But with PodTech™, it is possible.


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