Diabetes Explosion in Asia


Asia’s cases of diabetes are at an all-time high. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that more than 125 million people in Asia are suffering from the condition this year. These numbers are climbing quickly. There likely will be more than 200 million diabetes sufferers in Asia by as early as 2030. Compared to the rest of the world, Asia’s rate of diabetes diagnoses is the highest. Already, India, China, Indonesia, and Japan rank in the top five for countries with greatest numbers of diabetics.

If left untreated, diabetes can be a killer. It increases the level of glucose in the blood, which leads to other problems: cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness and other sensory loss, and more. With links to so many other potentially fatal conditions, diabetes clearly ranks within the top three of the deadliest diseases in Asia.

Patients need a combination of medical devices and pharmaceuticals in order to combat this chronic condition. Such treatment may be costly. In Asia, though, analyses indicate that there is a high correlation between diabetes patients and the relatively financially privileged people living in urban areas.

Important Medical Devices

At least 90 percent of new cases in Asia are Type 2 patients. Type 2, which primarily affects adults, is where the pancreas creates insufficient amounts of insulin or the body underutilizes the insulin. Type 2 now is exhibiting a trend of diagnosis in younger patients. Patients as young as 6 years old now have Type 2 diabetes. These new patients urgently need methods to inject insulin multiple times a day and to continuously monitor blood glucose levels.

Many medical device companies in the Unites States and Europe already have engineered products to address these issues. The high number of diabetics in Asia will bring an increased need for insulin needles/syringes, insulin pens, insulin pumps, injection ports, infusion sets and more. Recent innovations such as insulin jet injectors and continuous glucose monitoring systems also will find a steady growth market as the middle class in many of Asia’s developing countries continues to expand.

Currently, Abbott Laboratories, Bayer, Lifescan, Medtronic, Novo Nordisk, and Roche are among the largest diabetes medical device companies in Asia. Lifescan’s OneTouch, Roche’s Accuchek, Abbott’s Optium, and other product lines help patients monitor blood glucose levels. Insulin delivery systems also are available through Novo Nordisk and others.

Some companies, such as Bayer, are making larger investments to enter Asia’s diabetes market. In China, Bayer financially is supporting an anti-diabetes program that will provide medical products and train doctors to better care for diabetics. Additionally, this three-year program will build diabetes clinics in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong.

Noteworthy Causes

Researchers point to lifestyle changes as the overarching cause of high diabetes rates in Asia. In Western Europe and North America, people have had almost 200 years to adjust to the current diets of greasy fast food and increasingly sedentary lifestyles. However, most of Asia incorporated these ways of life more recently. Scientists note this difference and suggest genetics as part of the cause. For example, Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Dr. Juliana Chan argues that less time for Asian populations to genetically match current lifestyles may strain parts of the body, such as the pancreas, more so than in Western European or North American populations. In other words, the next few generations of people in Asia likely will remain at a higher risk for diabetes. Such findings strongly support the continued increase in diabetics in Asia. Thus, medical devices to aid these future generations of Asia’s diabetics will experience great demand.

Many factors contribute to Asia’s diabetes epidemic. The result is that countries within Asia will not all reach the same levels of diabetes growth. Recent studies show that China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam will have the highest rates of new diabetes diagnoses in the next 20 years.


In sheer numbers, China has the largest population of diabetics of any one country. Studies are showing that more than 90 million people in China are afflicted with diabetes. Essentially, one in 10 Chinese citizens currently is diabetic. Other research suggests that 150 million more of the country’s citizens are pre-diabetic. In the next decade, the World Health Organization estimates that care for diabetes-related diseases will lead to China spending approximately $560 billion between 2010 and 2020.


With more than 50 million diabetics, India ranks second in the world for the most sufferers of this condition in any one country. By 2030, the IDF predicts this number will rise by more than 80 percent to roughly 90 million. As with those living in China, one out of 10 in India soon will be diabetic.

IDF also finds that the average Indian diabetic spends $560 on health maintenance, including lab tests, inpatient/outpatient care, drugs and medical devices. With this estimate, India will spend more than $30 billion on diabetes care in 2010.

Southeast Asia

Although each of the countries in Southeast Asia has its own unique characteristics, one attribute links them together: low diabetes diagnoses. When international organizations conduct surveys on diabetes cases, they find that high levels of glucose are not always discovered or acted upon. This tends to happen more often in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam than in Japan or the United States.

As health regulations improve, diabetes will be identified more easily. At that time, more patients will be seeking medical devices to help them monitor and treat their diabetes.

Ames Gross is president and founder of Pacific Bridge Medical, a Bethesda, Md.-based consulting firm that helps companies doing business in the Asia market. A recognized national and international leader in the Asian medical markets, he founded Pacific Bridge Medical in 1988, which has helped hundreds of medical companies with business development and regulatory issues in Asia.

Arthur Chyan is an associate with Pacific Bridge Medical. He is fluent in Chinese and Japanese and works on consulting projects and research.