Although both of the other answers are close to the mark, the reason has more to do with the nature of the verb "claim". In this case "claim" is synonymous with "kill", specifically the mortal act itself and not the slow prelude.
Which is to say we aren't talking about the eventual demise of these people but their actual death. It's different from saying something like
Diabetes is slowly claiming his life
which suggests some future fatality.
Because this is a set of singular events, rather than ongoing events, it makes more sense to suggest regular discreet occurrences with the simple present.
Diabetes unnecessary claims many thousands of lives each year.
If however you were talking about the potential deaths from diabetes -- an ongoing process -- then something like the earlier sentence is fine:
Diabetes is slowly claiming the lives of nearly half as many people as cancer.
(Edit) In response to the downvotes (which I'm going to assume are trying to tell me I'm off-base):
Consider, as comparison, the verb "cost", an ongoing process, not a singular event. With this verb it's not abnormal to see the continuous tense used, for example
How Diabetes Is Costing Canadians Billions Of Dollars Per Year
The simple present is also fine. Unlike "claim", which the author chooses is simply a question of style, rather than meaning.