World experts in the field of diabetes discuss the current crisis at largest conference of its kind in Ireland

Posted on: 25 February 2008

Ireland is in the midst of a diabetes epidemic which the World Health Organisation has acknowledged as a global pandemic since the 1990s.  For the first time in Ireland, world leaders in the field of diabetes came together for a two-day conference to highlight the various components of this healthcare crisis.

The conference entitled  Diabetes in Crisis – A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Treatment of Diabetes organised by Professor John Nolan, Professor of Endocrinology at Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital took place in Dublin Castle on February 22-24th last. The conference which was officially opened by the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, addressed a spectrum of the key ‘moving points’ in diabetes care, from genetics, through epidemiology to clinical care, and the challenge of living with diabetes. Moreover, it highlighted the current inadequacies of the Irish health service.

Commenting on its aims, the conference’s executive chair, Professor Nolan,  said:   “The meeting was primarily about the care of Irish people already diagnosed and known to have diabetes.  Frontline resources for diabetes care in Ireland are far below the standards in other European countries and we have completely inadequate resources for patient education and support”.

“Diabetes (as the leading chronic disease) is a litmus test for our struggling health service.  Despite pockets of excellent care and high standards among professionals involved in diabetes care, we struggle because of a dysfunctional and poorly planned health system.  Manpower and resources are lacking at the frontline, where they are most needed, particularly in primary care”.

“As a country, we spend most of our resources on the late complications of diabetes that could have been prevented.  Clearly, we could do better, but there is an information gap for the Irish public that we must bridge urgently if we are to make any progress in approaching the kind of health service to which most other Europeans have easy access.”

In 1989 the Irish government signed the ‘St Vincent Declaration’ committing itself to develop strategies to reduce blindness, limb amputations and other diabetes-related complications. By 2000 it was acknowledged that only minimal progress had been made with Irish diabetes services since the 1989 declaration ¹.

In 2006 the United Nations passed a landmark resolution recognising the global threat of diabetes as a chronic, debilitating and costly condition associated with severe complications.  The annual direct cost of diabetes to the Irish health service is currently estimated to be €580 million ².

It has been forecast that the population prevalence of diabetes in Irish adults will be 5.6% or 193,944 people by 2015 ³.

World-leading diabetes experts from Europe and the US attending the conference included, amongst several others: epidemiologist Professor Jaakko Tuomilehto (Finland) on the diabetes epidemic in Europe, Professor Eberhard Standl  (Munich) current president of the International Diabetes Federation, EU region who  spoke on diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and Professor Phillippe Froguel, Chair of the Department of Genomic Medicine at Imperial College London who explored the genetics of Type 2 diabetes.

Dr Gillian Martin of  TCD’s Department of Germanic Studies was also a guest speaker at the conference and spoke on globalisation, immigration and diabetes.  Dr Martin has carried out research on the importance of communication in the treatment of immigrant patients with diabetes. Approximately 10% of newly referred patients at St James’s Hospital Dublin come from Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

Background Information:
1 Report of the Irish St Vincent Group. Existing facilities for diabetes care in the Republic of Ireland and developments required.  Ir J Med Sci (2000) 169:4 Suppl 3
2 Nolan JJ et al.  The cost of treating Type 2 diabetes (CODEIRE)  Ir Med J (2006) 99:307-310
3 Jordan, A, Graham, A., Balanda, K.P., &  Lorraine Fahy, (May 2007), Making diabetes count. What does the future hold? A systematic approach to forecasting population prevalence on the island of Ireland in 2010 and 2015, p.24, Second report of The Irish Diabetes Prevalence Working Group, Ireland and Northern Ireland’s Population Health Observatory (INIsPHO), Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH). Published by The Institute of Public Health in Ireland.  Sourced online 28th January 2008 from