THE BLOG
02/06/2016 06:47 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2017

Robert Kardashian Health Scare Is a Window Into an Epidemic Afflicting the Rest of The World

Robert Kardashian, son of the late famed lawyer, Robert Kardashian Sr., defense attorney in the renowned OJ Simpson case, and brother and son to the female clan of reality stars that make up the Kardashian franchise, was admitted to hospital with complaints of "not feeling well" late last month and subsequently diagnosed with diabetes. His quick turnaround in hospital stay has been labelled a "wake up call", a reality check on his progressive weight gain and poorly controlled diet.

But diabetes is a far greater problem amongst a diverse set of individuals that extend far beyond the Kardashian's case. In fact the World Health Organization has gone so far as to dub the disease an epidemic. There are an estimated 350 million people living with the disease worldwide and 1.5 million deaths annually attributed to its effects. One out of four people in America, have diabetes and don't know it. The incidence of diabetes has spiraled out of control over the last decade, largely going unnoticed, like other members of the noncommunicable disease family such as high blood pressure and heart disease, "silent killers", that don't show symptoms until the disease has progressed until one day when one, as reported in the case, just "doesn't feel well". Many-a-time this is a harbinger that the disease has already affected organs that could otherwise have been protected if caught early through screening and early diagnosis.

And diabetes doesn't always come in the shapes and sizes that we think of either. To be sure, it is easy to blame the disease on "poor lifestyle choices" made by individuals who could otherwise prevent the afflictions of the disease on themselves. But the potential for developing the disease also has to do with genetics, something that is not chosen by us, and that we have little control over. In fact some studies have shown evidence that underweight individuals have similar risk of developing type 2 diabetes (the one associated with being heavy), as overweight individuals do. Furthermore, the realization of this epidemic seeping out of the typical "Western" borders into poorer nations like those in Africa or Asia, provides further support for the fact that diabetes respects no color, creed or size.

This harsh reality has been felt in the developing world through the "epidemiologic transition", which has brought with it a more insulin-resistant, more high cholesterol-bearing, more stroke-laden, and more heart-attack prone population than ever seen before. Rob Kardashian's fortune is unfair, but we can be assured that he has access to the best care that he needs to gain better control of his disease. This fit with potential to afford a personal trainer, personal chef, and probably even install a personal gym in his home, if he so desired. And while these are wonderful prospects for this young man's life, the fact of the matter is that these novelties, or any semblance of them, are an inaccessible reality for most of the world, let alone access to clean water or a solid meal. A real recognition of a problem that is far and wide deserves breaking news at the level of that seen for a beloved reality star in the Kardashian son: when do we start paying attention to the rest of the world? The time for action is now.

Christine Ngaruiya, MD, MSc, DTM&H is faculty in the section of Global Health / International Emergency Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale New Haven Hospitals, a global health researcher with a focus on noncommunicable diseases in Africa and the developing world, and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd project.