Rapid lifestyle changes over the past two decades combined with poverty in Cambodia (according to government statistics, a third of the population lives below the national poverty line of 75 US cents a day) mean diabetes has become a major health problem.
The number of people with the disease is rising: Of the country’s 14.5 million inhabitants, about 352,000 adults live with diabetes, according to the 2009 Diabetes Atlas published by the Belgium-based International Diabetes Federation.
In 2005, about 255,000 people suffered from diabetes, according to an article published that year in the Lancet, a UK-based medical journal. Two-thirds of all cases went undiagnosed before the survey.
In 2010, Cambodia had about 8,000 diabetes-related deaths, according to the International Diabetes Federation. By contrast, the government records more than 200 malaria deaths per year, and has calculated over 1,000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths each year since the most recent prevalence data were collected in 2006.
“It’s a silent killer,” said Lim Keuky, an author of the 2005 study and head of the Cambodian Diabetes Association. “You don’t know about it until the symptoms appear, and then it might already be too late.”
Keuky’s study found a surprisingly high prevalence (5 percent) in Siem Reap, a province in the northwest, and surprising, the study said, that the country is poor, and lifestyles are still fairly traditional.
However, economic growth and urbanization mean many of Cambodia’s poor are eating processed food and not exercising enough.