People think they know all about diabetes. It’s in the media, it’s on the internet and if you ask your friends, I’m sure they’ve all heard of it. But in truth, this condition isn’t well-understood by most. Well-known? Probably yes. Well-understood? Not at all.

New figures released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) show that there are over 460 million people living with diabetes worldwide today. That’s a significant proportion of the world’s population, and globally, diabetes is one of the top ten causes of death.1 This shows it’s now more important than ever that people know how to prevent and manage this chronic and life-changing disease. The good news is that type 2 diabetes can, in many cases, be delayed, prevented, or even reversed.1 Making simple lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, maintaining a ‘healthy’ weight, reducing the amount of refined sugar in your diet, reducing alcohol consumption and smoking, or taking a suitable medication, can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Yet so few people are aware of this, it’s alarming. An international survey of over 9,000 people we conducted at Merck across 9 countries for World Diabetes Day showed a worrying lack of awareness: Over half (56%) of respondents were not aware the condition can be prevented and 41% were unaware of the steps that can be taken to prevent or delay its development. So it is unsurprising that the issue is growing – by 2045 it is predicted that over 700 million people will have diabetes.1 We need to take action now to help those at risk to prevent developing a disease that can cause many long-term and permanent complications.

This is why we’re continuing our strong partnership with IDF. Together, we are advocating for diabetes care and prevention worldwide through disease awareness programs, such as Merck’s global campaign ‘See it. Slow it. Stop it.’. Professor Nam H. Cho, Immediate Past President at the IDF, comments: “We are proud of our ongoing collaboration with Merck. Our partnership is an important step forward to continue raising awareness on the prevention and management of diabetes. We are delighted with the high engagement at our IDF Congress this year, where the global diabetes community is united again to share best practice and debate issues related to this life-changing condition.”

When we caught up with Professor Ian Campbell, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of St Andrews, UK, at the IDF Congress in Busan, South Korea, he added “We know that type 2 diabetes, and the complications associated with it, are on the rise in most countries. Which is why it’s so important that the community continues to raise awareness of its risk factors, so that we can curb the numbers of those being newly diagnosed and continue to drive innovation so that the lives of those already with diabetes are improved.”

At the congress, we were also joined by PETRA, our social robot co-developed with Furhat Robotics, a Swedish scale-up company specialized in human-robot interaction. PETRA can estimate whether a person is in the risk zone of developing diabetes by combining well-defined questions and the curiosity of a robot. With over 60 years’ experience, our commitment goes beyond medical treatments - advancements in technology are opening up opportunities in how we diagnose, manage and treat conditions. With health services across the globe becoming increasingly overburdened, we hope that technology like PETRA can be a step towards a digital solution, and an example of the innovation that Professor Campbell mentions.

I am always so inspired by the commitment of the community working in diabetes and this commitment was patently clear in the hive of activity throughout the IDF Congress 2019 and World Diabetes Day. At Merck, we are dedicated to working with partners across the community to keep driving innovation and improvements for patients. Through our treatments, technologies, and disease awareness campaigns, we are helping to tackle this growing epidemic and improve the lives of patients worldwide.

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