Earlier today I posted an item from Arab News: Saudi Arabia: Diabetics told to stay away from camels. It seemed an odd bit of advice, even though many MERS cases have had diabetes as an underlying condition.
But hours later the penny dropped when I recalled all the reports I've read in Arab News and Saudi Gazette about the prevalence of diabetes in the Kingdom.
How prevalent? Very prevalent. According to one source,
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest percentages of Diabetes in the world, with an estimated number of 2,065,300 people diagnosed with the disease by 2010, which is 16.8% of the population (although some studies have shown this percentage to be higher).
According to a study in the Journal of Family & Community Medicine
People diagnosed with diabetes, on average, have medical healthcare expenditures that are ten times higher ($3,686 vs. $380) than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes. Over 96% of all medical healthcare expenditures attributed to diabetes are incurred by persons of Saudi nationality, with the remaining 4% incurred by persons of non-Saudi nationality. The population age 45-60 incurs 45% of diabetes-attributed costs, with the remaining population under age 15 incurs 3.8%, age 15-44 incurs 27.5%, and age 60 and above incurs 23.8%.
An August 2013 report in Al-Arabiya notes that "72.4% of Saudis over the age of 40 suffer from obesity, and 35.6% in Saudi society, of whom 44% are women and 26.4% of men, are obese. The rate of obesity among Saudi children is about 18%."
The Wall Street Journal last month ran a story announcing "Diabetes Epidemic Hits Persian Gulf Region," with an estimated 20% of the population in the Persian Gulf region having diabetes:
In total, more than 34.6 million people in the Middle East and North Africa have diabetes, which accounts for 10.9% of people world-wide with the disease, and costs governments in the region more than $12 billion in treatment each year, the [International Diabetes Foundation] says.
What's more, the situation in the region is only set to deteriorate as the number of people living with diabetes is forecast to grow to 67.9 million by 2035. Only the sub-Saharan Africa region is expected to see a greater increase over the period.
Obviously, diabetes is a far greater public health issue in the region than MERS will ever be. But if contact with camels can put diabetics at greater risk, then they should indeed avoid such contact.
<One estimate puts the number of dromedary camels in Saudi Arabia at one million. The camel is culturally and economically important to the Saudis, so if it's seen as a health hazard to many of them, it may be hard to develop an effective practical response.
I will leave it to others to explain the high diabetes and obesity rates in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. But I note that Arab News and other English-language media in the Gulf go on and on about the servant problem: Ethiopians are violent (at least in response to employer abuse), and most other expatriate housemaids tend to run away at the first opportunity. If Saudis, male and female, did more of their own housework, and if the men switched to bicycles instead of killing themselves and women in auto accidents, both MERS and diabetes might be of less concern.