The First-ever Malaysian Diabetes Index Survey Uncovers Awareness Gaps on Diabetes Amongst Malaysians

The findings reveal a concern as the prevalence of diabetes continues to rise

KUALA LUMPUR, 15 JUNE 2021 – It appears that Malaysians may not fully understand diabetes and its resultant health complications, as the first-ever Malaysian Diabetes Index (MDI) reveals this. The MDI is a survey conceived to measure the level of awareness and understanding of diabetes in Malaysia under the Beyond Sugar campaign – a community initiative supported by AstraZeneca in partnership with the Malaysian Endocrine & Metabolic Society (MEMS).

More than half (52%) of respondents revealed that they do not know that diabetes cannot be cured, while 51% think that diabetes is not difficult to manage. What’s more startling is that about 1 in 3 respondents (37%) with diabetes do not know what the abnormal blood sugar level readings are.1

When it comes to diabetes complications, amputation is top-of-mind as 95% are aware that it can happen to someone with diabetes1. Interestingly, while heart complications are actually the deadliest out of all2, they happen to be the least known (75%). Other complications include eye damage (93%), kidney damage (90%), and nerve damage (84%)1.

The first-ever survey took place online from 12 April until 9 May 2021, with the support of several pharmacies and media partners. The purpose of this inaugural survey is to obtain a baseline of Malaysia’s awareness level and also to identify key knowledge gaps. The insights from this year’s 2,539 responses (which have been stratified to represent the overall population) will shape the way AstraZeneca and MEMS conceptualises public education initiatives in the year ahead.

“We are very proud to be a part of the Malaysian Diabetes Index survey with AstraZeneca. Year after year, we have seen more diabetes cases emerge but the sense of urgency seems to be tepid. This survey is a way for us to dissect how Malaysians think of their health and issues like diabetes to gain a better understanding of what else we can do from the very grassroots level. We no longer just want to support patients when they already have diabetes; it is time for more meaningful and calculated efforts to mitigate this health crisis,” says Professor Dr Chan Siew Pheng, Senior Consultant Endocrinologist and President of Malaysian Endocrine & Metabolic Society (MEMS).

Based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, there are approximately 3.9 million Malaysians living with diabetes3. The prevalence rate has risen from 13.4% in 2015 to 18.3% in 20193. That is equivalent to 1 in 5 adults in the country3, giving Malaysia the title of “Sweetest Nation in Asia”.

Not only is diabetes incurable, it can also increase one’s risk of developing other health complications such as heart problems, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and amputations4. This adds to the complexities of diabetes management as it involves monitoring and controlling blood sugar levels, and also other preemptive measures to reduce the risk of such complications.

Astonishingly, 1 in 3 Malaysians believe that cutting down on sugar is good enough1. The fact is while high sugar consumption does contribute to the development of diabetes, it is not the only cause. Optimal management of diabetes goes way beyond reduction in sugar consumption. When diabetes is diagnosed, there is already the presence of defective insulin release from the pancreas on top of insulin resistance where there is a lack of insulin action4.

With the limited awareness levels on diabetes, AstraZeneca has taken yet another step forward to launch the Beyond Sugar campaign, a public awareness initiative in partnership with MEMS. As its name implies, the campaign aims to educate the public that diabetes is not just about sugar alone and that managing blood sugar levels solely will not prevent other related health complications.

“At AstraZeneca, we recognise the burden of diabetes on emerging markets and yet awareness levels remain limited. The findings from the Malaysian Diabetes Index survey iterates the awareness gaps amongst Malaysians about this disease and how we, as a biopharmaceutical company, can play a vital role in supporting Malaysia’s battle against NCDs by strengthening our healthcare ecosystem with solutions beyond the pill. One of the ways we do this is by elevating public-patient awareness to prevent diabetes and encourage multi-risk factor (MRF) screening for early diagnosis of diabetes-related complications,” explained Dr. Sanjeev Panchal, Country President, AstraZeneca Malaysia.

“The Beyond Sugar campaign enables us to reach out to the masses with vital information that empower people to be more informed on diabetes and to consult their physicians for MRF screening for early diagnosis. Our collaboration with MEMS will enable us to address the awareness gaps through the Beyond Sugar campaign while our TakeCareofMe flagship diabetes programme supports MRF diagnostics at the primary care level for the prevention of complications related to diabetes.”

“Through early disease management, we can delay complications and ensure early diagnosis and referral to ultimately improve the standard of care for people living with diabetes. As part of our sustainability efforts for diabetes, we hope to run the MDI annually so that we can effectively measure any changes to Malaysians overall awareness and behaviour towards diabetes,” added Dr. Sanjeev.

The campaign kicks off with a microsite ( which contains valuable information and resources about diabetes, diabetes management tips, and also the full MDI report. The educational initiative is aligned with AstraZeneca’s long term commitment to empower Malaysians to take better care of their health and reduce their chances of diabetes or diabetes-related complications. More awareness initiatives will be organised in the coming year based on the insights from MDI.

*To learn more about the Beyond Sugar campaign and diabetes, visit The website is available in English and Bahasa Malaysia.

Other Key Findings of MDI 20211:

● Malaysians believe that diabetes is mainly caused by a high calorie diet, family history, obesity, and lack of physical activity or exercise.

● About 53% of respondents (who do not have diabetes) think they are at risk of developing it later in life citing “family history/genetics” and “unhealthy diet” as the top two reasons.

● 88% of respondents know someone living with diabetes.

● Over 1 in 3 (37%) people with diabetes think that cutting down on sugar is good enough.

● 98.7% of respondents with diabetes agree that it is important for people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels – but DiabCare 2013 found that only 26.3% of people with diabetes adhere to this habit5.

● The youths (millennials and Gen Z) fall short in terms of general diabetes awareness, as compared to their older counterparts.

● 19% of Gen Z (those below 24 years) do not know the two main types of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2.

● Only half (50%) of the youths were aware that diabetes could cause heart disease.

● 47% of youths also believe that they will get diabetes.



About AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca (LSE/STO/Nasdaq: AZN) is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of diseases in three therapy areas - Oncology, Cardiovascular, Renal & Metabolism, and Respiratory & Immunology. Based in Cambridge, UK, AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. Please visit and follow the company on Twitter @AstraZeneca.

About Malaysian Endocrine & Metabolic Society

MEMS was formed in 1981 with a primary aim to advance knowledge and practice of medicine in the field of endocrinology through promotion of research and organising post-graduate teaching courses as well as organising congresses.


1. Malaysian Diabetes Index 2021.

2. International Diabetes Federation. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Available on Last accessed 4 June 2021.

3. Ministry of Health Malaysia. National Health & Morbidity Survey 2019: Non-Communicable Diseases, Healthcare Demand and Healthcare Literacy. Available on Last accessed 9 May 2021.

4. Mayo Clinic. Type 2 Diabetes, Symptoms and Causes. Available on: Last accessed 16 July 2021.

5. Mafauzy M, Zanariah H, Nazeri A, Chan SP. DiabCare 2013: A cross-sectional study of hospital based diabetes care delivery and prevention of diabetes related complications in Malaysia. The Medical Journal of Malaysia. 2016 Aug;71(4):177-185.