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Diabetes rates in Central Australia are among the highest in the world, new research shows

Selina and Rhonda Bob are waiting for a phone call that will save their lives – a call that could take years.

Their kidneys are failing and they hope they won’t have to wait too long on the organ transplant list.

“I was sad when I heard the doctors tell me that you are going be in kidney [failure] soon. I thought, ‘you have to lie,'” Selina said.

Each week, the sisters are tied to a chair for 16 hours while their blood is pumped out of their bodies and filtered through a dialysis machine.

The couple were diagnosed with diabetes – a condition that can damage the kidneys – at an incredibly young age.

And in this isolated pocket of the world, these sisters are not alone in their prognosis.

Researchers have found that diabetes rates in Central Australia are among the highest ever reported anywhere in the world. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

New research has found diabetes rates in Central Australia are among the highest ever in the world – and they’re getting worse, with more people being diagnosed each year at much younger ages than ever before.

The study, published in the open-access medical journal BMJ Open, analyzed seven years of health data from more than 21,000 Aboriginal people from 51 remote communities in the Northern Territory.

The lead author is Matthew Hare, an endocrinologist at the Royal Darwin Hospital and senior researcher at the Menzies School of Health Research.

He said the new research showed a growing epidemic of diabetes in remote NT communities that was “unprecedented in prevalence”.

“Diabetes rates in these remote communities are increasing to such an extent that 29% of adults in remote Indigenous communities are living with diabetes, and a lot of that is type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Hare said.

“The results of our research were of particular concern for the Central Australian region where communities have diabetes prevalence rates of up to 40% of adults.”

Dr Hare said the last time this type of research was carried out was in 2012 and things had gotten much worse since then.

A young doctor stands in an office leaning against a table.
Dr Matthew Hare says the epidemic is strongly linked to the impacts of colonization.(ABC News: Tully Hemsley)

Diabetes is no longer a disease of the elderly

Until now, diabetes was seen as a disease that mainly affected older people, but Dr Hare said type 2 diabetes was increasingly being seen in children.

“We’ve seen cases diagnosed as young as four years old,” Dr Hare said.

“And that’s type 2 diabetes, which we previously thought was a condition mostly seen in adults.

“We find that the average age of diagnosis for type 2 diabetes is in the mid-30s, which compared to national data is several decades younger.

“When you look at the Australian population, nationally, most people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are between the ages of 60 and 70.”

Co-author Dr Amy Rosser, an experienced remote physician in a desert community about 300 km from Alice Springs, said Aboriginal people aged 20 to 39 in remote areas of the Northern Territories were 26 times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than people. of the same age in the Australian national population.

Epidemic linked to the impacts of colonization

Dr Hare said there were many factors driving the growing epidemic, including the intergenerational effects of diabetes during pregnancy and the social and economic disparities that many people in remote communities still experience today. today.

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