Diabetes: a major concern, particularly in the Middle East

Diabetes: a major concern, particularly in the Middle East

Diabetes is a rapidly growing concern for countries all over the world.

The disease occurs when blood sugar levels are too high due to the body’s inability to produce enough insulin or to use insulin properly. Last year the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that 415 million people are currently living with diabetes worldwide.


Last month, the LA Times published new research revealing that the goal set by world health leaders to maintain the level of diabetes from 2010 to 2025 is highly unlikely to be achieved.

The IDF expects the number of cases in the Middle East to nearly double in the next 20 years and it is of particular concern in the Gulf states of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. According to the IDF 37 million people live with diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa – almost 10 per cent of the population.

Tackling the problem

There are many employees in the Middle East working in the construction sector. A large number of these employees live at onsite accommodation provided by employers, so it’s important that employers take responsibility for their employees’ health and wellbeing.

Jeffrey John, a doctor at Gulf Contracting, Interserve’s associate business in Qatar, said: “We started health checks in 2007 and one of the most common problems we have seen over the years is diabetes.”

He explained that there are four reasons, which when combined, make diabetes so prevalent in the Middle East. Some of these reasons can particularly affect those working in the accommodation camps.

    1. Diet is the main culprit – high calorie, fat rich foods and the lack of awareness about what is needed for a healthy diet
    2. Minimal exercise is also a factor – the motivation for regular exercise is missing among many employees as many camps in the Middle East don’t provide good facilities for their employees
    3. The climate is another problem – as the Gulf region experiences a very hot climate for nearly three quarters of the year, it forces people to remain indoors and avoid regular exercise.
    4. Lastly, there is a lack of health screening and education among many of the accommodation camps in the Gulf. Some companies could do a lot more to make the health and wellbeing of their employees a top priority.

The health checks at Gulf Contracting consist of height and weight measurement, BMI estimation, fasting blood sugar and cholesterol checks for all employees.

Further tests are done for select employees depending on the nature of their work, including complete blood count, hepatitis B testing, kidney and liver function tests, lung function tests and hearing tests. Nurses based at accommodation camps also conduct awareness and training sessions for employees on what constitutes a healthy diet and a healthy way of life.

Introducing a diabetic kitchen in Qatar

Prakash Menon, personnel manager, Gulf Contracting, said: “The spike in diabetes in our region became a grave concern for us. We wanted to do something to further protect our employees against the disease and make sure they had access to meals which had been put together for them, and which focused on reducing the risk of diabetes. This led to the opening of a diabetic kitchen.”

The kitchen has a different menu to a ‘normal’ kitchen. The menu is designed based on advice from the medical administrator and places a high emphasis on a diet to keep diabetes in check, with low carbohydrates, lots of steamed vegetables and meat with less spice, salt and oil.

Prakash said: “The food is increasingly popular. Diabetic workers are happy with the company for providing these meals which have led to significant health improvements Many employees without diabetic conditions enjoy the meals too.”

Making it to the final of the Workers’ Cup

And it doesn’t stop there… Gulf Contracting accommodation sites have a well-equipped gym, badminton court, volleyball court and ample space in the camp grounds for jogging or outdoor exercises. The main accommodation site also has table tennis tables, a cricket pitch and a football field.

Some of the staff on site believe that the facilities available have contributed to some recent football success. The Gulf Contracting football team made it to the final of the Workers’ Cup in Qatar, which was played in front of 6,000 fans earlier this month. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on their side and they were beaten on the day by the Taleb Group, but the players are already looking forward to their chance to lift the cup next year.

Jeffrey John said: “We are seeing improved results in our health checks and there is an increase in health consciousness among the workforce. But the onus has to be on employers first. As the ones responsible for providing catering and exercise facilities, they have the power to make the biggest change.”

Find out more…

Our work in the Middle East – Interserve has been working in the Middle East since 1981, and the past three decades have seen us establish strong regional partnerships to deliver a full scope of services.

Construction – Our track record of working with high profile government and private sector clients, delivering everything from minor property services roll-outs to large construction projects, has led to a high level of repeat business.


Interserve is one of the world's foremost support services and construction companies.