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About 140,000 New Zealanders are currently on some form of diabetes treatment or management regime, but it is estimated that over 100,000 other New Zealanders have diabetes without knowing it, according to Terrence Aschoff, General Manager of the Researched Medicines Industry Association (RMI).

"The importance of diagnosing and treating diabetes in its early stages cannot be stressed enough," he says.

Secondary complications include eye disease, kidney disease and problems associated with poor circulation such as ulcers and impotence, so early intervention makes health sense for patients and economic sense for the government. Money invested in primary care, including medicines, save much bigger secondary health care costs arising from hospitalisation and other expensive medical intervention.

New Zealanders with diabetes now have access to pocket-size blood-sugar testing meters that provide on-the-spot feedback and can be hooked into home computers for patients to be able to check their own individual management patterns.

Refinements in both oral medications and in the types of injected insulins and insulin delivery systems now mean that, with their doctor's help, patients can choose a medical self-management regime that best suits their individual physiological requirements.

New breakthroughs in diabetic care are in the pipeline with, for example, insulin inhalers currently undergoing clinical trials overseas.

"Advances in biotechnology are fuelling leading research into organ and cell transplantation that may finally offer hope for a cure for the disease," says Aschoff.