World Health Day 2016 – combating diabetes from the core of the family

68 years ago on 7 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution came into force, marking a special date we now celebrate every year as World Health Day to raise awareness and understanding about a specific health issue.

This year, the theme focuses on one of the world’s fastest growing chronic diseases – diabetes.

It is estimated that approximately 350 million people have diabetes globally, among whom 90% suffer from type 2 diabetes (T2DM), with a majority of them living in low- and middle-income countries. In China, diabetes shockingly affects 113.9 million people, making it the largest number of any country in the world, and its prevalence is expected to continue to rise.

“Most of the primary healthcare service for diabetes and other chronic diseases are conducted in communities. This is also in accordance with WHO’s calling for specific, effective and affordable actions to tackle this chronic disease and its staggering burden,” said Associate Professor Puhong Zhang, Head of Diabetes Research Program at The George Institute for Global Health, China, and Acting Director of China Center for mobile Health Innovation (CCmHI).

“In China, family members are closely linked with each other. It is common to see when at home, the family members of the patients are highly motivated to care for their relatives. However much of this care is variable in quality and not evidence-informed due to the accessibility of disease-related knowledge and how to prevent it. This actually provides both challenges and opportunity to the healthcare professionals exploring possible approaches to combat the disease. It is urgent given the epidemic proportions today of diabetes and obesity.” 

In a new project called SMARTHealth Diabetes carried out in late 2015 by CCmHI, researchers introduced a new concept named Family Health Promoter (FHP). The FHP is a voluntary family member who receives training in chronic disease management and professional support delivered by community health service practitioners. Assisted by a mobile device, the FHP takes responsibility for maintaining the health of the whole family.

“The rapid evolvement of mobile technology brings great potential in chronic disease management and health education,” said Professor Zhang. “We want to target those who are proficient with the internet through mobile devices, i.e. the young adults, to deliver a healthy lifestyle to their families and help the patients adhere to disease monitoring plans and drug therapy, therefore beating diabetes from the core.”

The intervention, based on the best practice clinical guidelines for T2DM patients, is planned to be launched in both rural and city areas in Hebei province and Beijing first to test its feasibility. 2,000 diabetics from these regions will participate in this study and randomized at 1:1 to intervention and control groups. Currently the collaboration with Hebei Luquan has already started. 

Taking diabetes and hypertension management as a starting point, the research is expected to bring a new FHP-involved, community-based chronic disease management strategy to society and overcome sub-optimal access to effective healthcare in China.

This study is funded by Australian National Health and Medical Research Council as part of the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD), an alliance of 10 of the world’s leading health research funding organizations and aims to reduce the global burden of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases by coordinating research across the world.