Tackling diabetes in Canada and abroad
CIHR Scientific Directors message for World Health Day 2016

Today we celebrate World Health Day. This day was created to mark the birth of the World Health Organization (WHO) on April 7, 1948. For nearly 70 years, the WHO has played a vital role in directing and coordinating international health activities for the United Nations.

The theme for World Health Day this year is diabetes ­– one of several non-communicable diseases that present a major burden and threat to the global population. The WHO estimates that 422 million people in the world currently have diabetes, including 2.4 million people in Canada. This year's campaign aims to increase awareness of the rise of diabetes and its burden, particularly in low and middle-income countries, and to trigger specific and affordable actions to tackle diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that results either when the pancreas produces no insulin or insufficient amounts, or when the body does not use the insulin it produces effectively. The most common forms are type 1 diabetes, which requires daily insulin injections, and type 2 diabetes, which can often be controlled by diet, exercise, and medications. Diabetes is characterized by hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, which over time can cause serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. This damage can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke and lead to blindness and limb amputation.

The good news is that diabetes is treatable. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented through interventions that raise awareness, modify lifestyle and change the environments in which we live, play, work and learn to  promote healthy body weights, regular exercise and healthy eating. The challenge at the global level is not only to enable access to affordable treatments but to implement and scale up effective preventive interventions in countries around the world. This challenge is most acute in low and middle-income countries which lack the resources or the infrastructure to deliver diabetes prevention programs.

Canada has played a leadership role in increasing understanding and improving the treatment of diabetes and its complications. This starts with the discovery of insulin by Frederick Banting and Charles Best at the University of Toronto in 1921 and its commercial production. Today, Canadian researchers continue to be at the forefront of diabetes research with the support of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Just recently, CIHR funded a new national research network, the SPOR Network on Diabetes and Related Complications.

This network is co-led by Dr. Gary Lewis, Director of U of T's Banting & Best Diabetes Centre, and Dr. Jean-Pierre Després, at Laval University. The network represents a major collaboration involving researchers from academic institutions across Canada, patients and partners including the Canadian Diabetes Association, JDRF Canada, and Merck Canada.

Canada is also contributing to addressing the global challenge of diabetes through CIHR participation in the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD), which involves the world's leading health research agencies. Diabetes is one of the GACD priorities with member agencies currently supporting 17 projects focused on improving the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes in low and middle-income countries.

Among these projects, CIHR is supporting one led in Canada by researchers at McMaster University on diabetes prevention in the Philippines. These researchers are working with researchers and community health workers to tailor and implement a diabetes prevention program in the southwest region of the Philippines. The program is based on a cardiovascular health awareness program developed and implemented in Canada.  

CIHR is also addressing the challenge of diabetes among Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Obesity as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes is one of four exemplars of CIHR's Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples. We are supporting research in partnership with Indigenous communities that aims to reduce obesity and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. For example, Dr. Jonathan McGavock at the University of Manitoba is leading a project on a peer-based program to prevent weight gain in First Nations youth at risk for type 2 diabetes.

As CIHR Scientific Directors, we are proud to support the outstanding work of Canadian diabetes researchers in collaboration with valued partners here and abroad. As a country, Canada is taking concrete and committed action to tackle diabetes.

Dr. Nancy Edwards
Scientific Director
CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health

Dr. Malcolm King
Scientific Director
CIHR Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health

Dr. Philip Sherman
Scientific Director
CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes

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