An international report has highlighted particularly high rates of diabetes among Australia's Torres Strait Islanders. 
By
Andi Yu

Source:
World News Radio
15 Nov 2013 - 11:28 PM  UPDATED 16 Nov 2013 - 1:01 AM

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

A new report predicts an alarming rise in diabetes cases around the world.

Experts from the International Diabetes Federation say the chronic disease is on track to be the largest epidemic in history.

And the report has highlighted particularly high rates of diabetes among Australia's Torres Strait Islanders.

Andi Yu has the details.

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The report by the International Diabetes Federation estimates people living with diabetes around the world number 380 million today and this figure will surge to 600 million by the year 2035.

It says Indigenous Australians - particularly Torres Strait Islanders - will continue to be among the worst affected.

The report says one-in-three Torres Strait Islanders have diabetes now, one of the highest rates in the world.

But Professor of Public Health and Medicine at James Cook University Robyn McDermott says the report is using figures that are already out of date.

"I just looked at the source of a lot of this data and realised that the figures quoted for the Torres Strait Islanders are in fact over ten years old and what we know about the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in adults in the Torres Strait now is that it's much higher, in fact we know that there's about three new cases per hundred people per year."

Professor McDermott says the latest figures reveal diabetes affects 40 per cent of Torres Strait Islanders.

South Australian Indigenous diabetes researcher Professor Alex Brown says exact figures don't really matter.

"Whether it's 25, 30, 35 or 40 per cent prevalence rates in these communities, this is completely unacceptable and we must be doing something about it rather than just measuring what's going on in these communities."

Torres Strait Shire Mayor Pedro Stephens says the rise in diabetes rates in the islands is in part a result of a shift away from traditional lifestyle and food choices.

However, he says when supplies are limited, and many people are on low incomes, it's difficult to make healthy food choices.

"You have the supermarkets that have come in and they sell to your community and then, the actual people that continue to be on CDP, or Community Development Program, that is actually work for the dole, the financial situation hasn't changed. People would actually just say, the easy thing is I'll buy what I can get, the cheaper product I can get, soft drinks, there's hardly fresh fruit actually going to the Islands, through the supermarket."

Mayor Stephens says making more healthy food available, at affordable prices, should be a key part of a new strategy of prevention to deal with diabetes in the Torres Strait.

However, he says at present, the health system in the islands isn't focused enough on prevention.

"The mindset of the health provider is still the same, that if you're crook, you find your way in and we'll fix you up, rather than actually be proactive and actually be in our community and complementing the healthy lifestyle initiative."

Researcher Robyn McDermott has worked in the Torres Strait for years.

She says it's easier to deal with chronic diseases like diabetes - including on prevention - if local health services are controlled by local people.

"Some studies that we've been doing up in North Queensland for some years now are suggesting that services with community control actually have better care processes around chronic disease management and generally working with people on the prevention side than other types of services."

Mayor Stephens agrees that the ideal health service in the Torres Strait would be one administered by locals.

But he says a lack of funding works against this.

"Community control of health is more practical now that we have our own people that are doctors, that are registered nurses, but we don't see them. We don't see them, even working within our hospitals and with our health services here any more because the last round of cuts actually took a lot of indigenous health workers out and a lot of indigenous managers that was working with health, so you've gone back to the days where your fly-in fly-out people to actually deliver your service."

Despite the challenges Mayor Stephens is optimistic about reducing the rate of diabetes in the Torres Strait.

"We will continue to lobby very strongly because over the last years the frustration of seeing how the response from both state and Commonwealth just through lip service. My aspiration is that there will be a turnaround because we have so many of our own people that are in strategic levels within the government bureaucracy now that can actually understand the plight of the people."