After writing an opinion piece in The Spectator, a UK doctor has caused controversy after stating that he’d “rather have HIV than diabetes.”
Of course, both HIV/AIDS and obesity-related diabetes are sensitive topics, especially now that diabetes has become something of an epidemic, particularly in the U.S. And some doctors have disagreed with the op-ed writer’s point of view, arguing that it’s not right to compare two very different diseases.
But Dr. Max Pemberton stands his ground. In the editorial piece, he argues that throughout the past few decades, HIV/AIDS campaigning and research has progressed significantly; and highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) offers HIV patients a chance to live a long, healthy, normal life. Being infected with the HIV virus in 2014 is far from a death sentence. Instead, Pemberton notes that he hasn’t witnessed someone die of HIV in years.
“The risk of stroke in newly treated type 2 diabetes is more than double that of the general [UK] population,” Pemberton, the author of “The Doctor Will See You Now,” wrote in the article. “To put it starkly, the latest statistics show that because of HAART (antiretroviral medications), HIV now no longer reduces your life expectancy, while having type 2 diabetes typically reduces it by ten years. But this isn’t an easy thing to say publicly.”
Pemberton goes on to argue that while people are fearful of HIV/AIDS, many remain “complacent about diabetes in a way that would seem reckless with HIV.” People are more likely to see diabetes as an “irritant,” Pemberton writes, “something that can be easily fixed with tablets.” He’s pointing out a serious problem in the mentality of people who have diabetes, or obese people who are predisposed to developing it. Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to complications later on down the road and can also cut away at your life expectancy.
But perhaps comparing it to HIV wasn’t the best way to get his point across. At least that’s what Dr. Kenneth Mayer, professor of medicine at Harvard University and medical research director at Fenway Health Clinic, believes. “I’m not very happy with the article,” Mayer told ABC News. “I think comparing two serious illnesses is not very useful.”
“My whole point [is it] shouldn’t be either or,” Mayer continued. “They’re both important. There may be more people at risk for diabetes [globally], but HIV is transmissible.”
Despite the significant progress made with HAART and HIV patients’ life expectancy, the disease is still a major killer worldwide, especially in areas that don’t have proper treatment, like sub-Saharan Africa. And long-term complications of HIV — even when the patient is placed on HAART — can still exist, from shortened life span to a more compromised immune system overall, to cognitive decline.
But perhaps instead of attacking the way that Pemberton phrased his argument, it’s important to get to the core of the issue here: Diabetes needs just as much awareness and campaigning as other diseases out there, whether it’s cancer, HIV/AIDS, or cardiovascular disease. It's an epidemic that is growing progressively worse, hand in hand with obesity. The American Diabetes Association reports that 26 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes — nearly 10 percent of the entire population and 25 percent of older Americans. Every year, 1.9 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, and 79 million have what is known as prediabetes, or a state of health that is very close to being diabetic. On top of that, seven million people in the U.S. have diabetes that is undiagnosed. If the current trend continues, nearly one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050 — it’s a scary number, especially since every one in three Americans is obese.
No disease is necessarily worse than another. But there is no point in denying that diabetes is on the rise, and a significant amount of lifestyle changes and prevention techniques will need to change the way we approach and view this disease.