The global cost of treating diabetes is set to double to US$2.12 trillion (S$2.91 trillion) by 2030 compared with that in 2015. Proportionally, the figures represent 1.8 per cent of the world's gross domestic product.
The projection was cited by Dr Enis Baris, the World Bank's practice manager for East Asia and the Pacific region, at yesterday's Ministerial Conference on Diabetes.
But this is just the healthcare cost of treating diabetes patients, he noted, warning that the true cost is greater. He cited the indirect costs on society and the global economy, including threats to life expectancy, worker productivity and economic competitiveness.
With rising childhood obesity, the global incidence of diabetes is expected to continue to go up.
Professor Rifat Atun of Harvard University said healthcare institutions need "to go back to the drawing board and reflect on how to respond to the challenge of diabetes".
Agreeing, professor of diabetology Hanno Pijl of Leiden University in the Netherlands said that most healthcare systems in the world are outdated. "In the 19th and early 20th century, we were primarily faced with infections, which are relatively simple diseases with a single cause," he said.
But today, diseases like diabetes are complex multi-factorial, multi-system disorders. "Pills do not address the root cause of type 2 diabetes; they merely treat symptoms," he added.
The solution may lie in transforming the environment, including identifying commercial factors that contribute to diabetes.
The low cost and availability of food and beverages with high sugar content, and shifting social realities like globalisation and urbanisation, are some such factors.
Patients need to be better informed of the possibilities of tackling the root cause via lifestyle changes, said Prof Pijl.
Such intervention should be integrated into the conventional care system, he added.
"If we leave the solution of this huge health threat to healthcare alone, we are fighting a losing battle. We need to change our environment as well," said Prof Pijl.