‘The symptoms of diabetes are excessive thirst, excessive peeing, losing weight and feeling sick and weak,’ says Battelino.
‘It is very important that parents and health workers recognise these symptoms so that a child gets appropriate treatment,’ says Battelino, who is a diabetes specialist at the University Children’s Hospital in Slovenia.
Type 1 diabetes is a serious auto-immune disease in which the body’s own immune system kills the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Unless insulin is given intravenously, the person with this diabetes will die.
‘Type 1 diabetes is increasing at a rate of between 2 and 5 percent annually,’ says Battelino. ‘The reason for this is completely unknown.’
Some argue that obesity plays a role, but this is not always the case.
‘What we know is that the countries furthest from the equator, like Sweden and Norway, have the highest rates of Type 1 diabetes,’ says Battelino.
In contrast, the rate of Type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing by as much as 20 percent in some countries but the causes are well known ‘ obesity and lack of exercise.
‘The good news about Type 2 diabetes is that it is completely reversible in young people. They lose weight and exercise and it disappears.’
About a million South Africans have Type 1 and 3.4 million have Type 2 diabetes.
Treatment for Type 1 is far more difficult, usually involving up to five daily injections of insulin.
In developed countries, an insulin pump that continuously monitors and feeds in insulin is now standard.
‘The pump can be inserted for three days and is much better for a patient’s quality of life. We have also noticed a better insulin level is maintained by those using the pump,’ says Battelino.
‘It is more expensive than the injections, but it saves in the long run in reducing the need for kidney dialysis after renal failure and treatment for blindness caused by diabetes.’