Diabetes and the family: Education is empowerment

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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Dear Editor,

Today, World Diabetes Day, once again brings into focus the outcome of a curious mind. A physician, having read of experimental outcomes in laboratories in Europe, approached his colleagues at the University of Toronto for support for an idea which he was formulating…tying off the pancreatic duct in dogs and observe the results. Within a couple of years, the experimental team was led by two physiologists (Professor John McLeod and student Charles Best), biochemist James Collip and the ideator/innovator himself, Frederick Banting, and soon the new hope for a cure for diabetes was thrust upon the world and rewarded with academics' most prestigious prize, the Nobel Prize in Medicine (1923), which was shared by the four researchers.

By then the bitter disputes that had arisen during their research years had left them hardly speaking to each other, but what had endured was the search for academic truth and that was the tie that held the tenuous relationship together as they sought answers to the cause of one of the world's deadliest killers — diabetes mellitus.

Sir Frederick Banting was born on November 14, 1891, and so on this day we celebrate the man whose tenacity demonstrated what medical sciences can do for life's challenges. Hail the man!

The world is in the midst of a massive 'tsunami' as far as diabetes and its co-morbid conditions are concerned. According to the latest diabetes atlas brought out by the International Diabetes Federation, there are 425 million people with diabetes, and this is slated to increase significantly in the near future.

But the problems do not end just with the numbers affected. Almost half the people who have diabetes are not diagnosed. In some parts of the world, almost two-thirds of the people who have diabetes are not aware of this. Moreover, even amongst the people who know they have diabetes, the vast majority of them are not in optimal control.

It is no wonder that today diabetes is the leading cause of blindness; the leading cause of lower limb amputations after traumatic incidents; one in three people undergoing dialysis or renal transplants have diabetes as its root cause; and diabetes, along with its co-morbid conditions, is a major factor in the increasing numbers seen of people with cardiovascular disease. It has been estimated that a person with diabetes could have a shortened life span brought about by diabetes and its associated conditions.

Some two decades ago, the International Diabetes Federation forecast that every eight seconds someone somewhere in the world died from diabetes and/or its complications. A decade later that number increased to every seven seconds. In 2015, the International Diabetes Federation Atlas showed that a person died every six seconds. So obviously things were just not getting better, in spite of more knowledge, newer medications, and a number of guidelines as well as billions of dollars spent on research.

So what is the way forward which would be of benefit for our people with diabetes? We have to take into account the ground realities of diabetes care in many regions of the world. It has been estimated that the vast majority of our people are seen and only seen by primary care physicians and general physicians (internists). If we are to stem the upcoming tsunami, these are the people who have to be the “front line” in our war against diabetes. We have to empower them to wage the war against diabetes, and education is empowerment.

At the same time, we have to understand that many of these medical personnel care about giving good management to their people with diabetes but they are not necessarily interested in becoming “experts” in diabetes care.

If we are to stem the rising tsunami of diabetes, we have to come together to use all the available knowledge and see how this can be translated into simple and doable care which can be utilised in simple clinical settings.

It is towards this pursuit that the Diabetes Association of Jamaica is committed and is willing to participate in all programmes that can empower the health team, at the centre of which, is the person with diabetes.

We stand ready to work with you in performing our mission of: Until there is a cure, let us give the care underscored by our mantra: Eat less and walk more!

Professor Errol Y St A Morrison

Hon (Life) President & Co-founder

Diabetes Association of Jamaica

Kingston 5

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