Diabetes – Where Do We Stand?

Saint Lucia on Monday will join the rest of the world in observing World Diabetes Day, which is all part of observations of World Diabetes Month (November).

This country has had a torrid relationship with the disease to the point where it was said that it has or had the highest per capita ratio of diabetes in the world.

This distinction was made by urologist Dr Michael Graven, who conducted a medical study here more than 10 years ago in which he is said to have screened more than 31,000 St Lucians.

In his report and in presenting his findings (2007), he said that “The state of diabetes in St Lucia is tantamount to a public health disaster, much like a hurricane with catastrophic rates.”

Many Saint Lucians have since brushed Graven’s findings aside claiming that Saint Lucia does not have the world’s highest level of diabetes. Whatever the case, none will deny that this country has a serious diabetes problem, one which cannot be ignored.

According to the World Health Rankings of the top five causes of death in Saint Lucia, diabetes ranks number three, a clear case that Fair Helen has a diabetes problem which needs to be tackled, and swiftly, from both the government and grassroots levels, meaning political and public commitment to address the problem.

Let’s be real: Saint Lucians for decades have been warned about their lifestyles, especially their diet, and the need to avoid falling prey to the disease. The Saint Lucia Diabetes and Hypertension Association has been leading the charge for a national healthy lifestyle campaign and its doors have been open year after year, operating on a shoestring budget most of the time, preaching the message of diabetes avoidance. The Association has gone out of its way to provide, at more than reasonable cost, the services the local diabetic community needs to help sufferers deal with the disease.

While limited resources have restricted the amount of work the organization has been able to do to address the diabetes situation in the country, the dedicated men and women who make up the executive order at the Association, have stuck it out through thick and thin to ensure that the Association’s doors remain open to all who need instant attention.

Sadly however, despite the dedication of the Association, statistics continue to show that not only the older generation are affected by the disease but young people as well, underscoring the need for lifestyle management, a need more important today than ever before.

In the words of a former president of the Association, George Eugene, “… we take care of our vehicle, we take it for service and do what is required of us, but when it comes to our bodies and our health, we are laissez-faire where that is concerned.”

These words are indeed true and conjure up a frightening reality: Imagine the economic impact a diabetes infected population has on the country.

This is not a far-fetched situation but a real-life possibility, which underlines the need for a strong political will and public commitment to reverse the trend we are seeing in respect of diabetes in the land.

We need to look at the things we import in the country and what we feed ourselves with. We must become more health conscious. We are an agricultural nation, yet we hardly consume what we can grow. All that must change.

Today’s diabetes statistics are just as startling as when urologist Graven stated that Saint Lucia has the highest per capita ratio of diabetes in the world. We appeal to government to move swiftly to make several interventions such as formulating policies and developing programmes to change people’s lifestyles.

Not that government is without programmes aimed at changing people’s lifestyles. It is just that this juncture is a critical one, which calls for a refocusing of health programmes which we are sure, if done, will encourage renewed approaches and develop ideas that will help in fulfilling the provision of total health to Saint Lucians.

Going back to Graven’s study, it found that based on the current trend, the rate of new cases of diabetes would double every four years and hypertension every five years, with the complications of heart attacks, strokes, renal failure, blindness and amputations burdening the health system.

We hope this is not the case today. Our future does not have to look so bleak, however it all depends on us to do the right things.

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