Director of Non-Communicable Diseases in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Nicola Skyers.
Photo: Contributed

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has put together a number of initiatives geared towards the control of diabetes in Jamaica.

In an interview with JIS News, Director of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) at the Ministry, Dr. Nicola Skyers, says that one of the main activities is to increase publicity around the prevention and management of the disease and, in a more general way, NCDs.

“We are in the process of scaling-up and developing our media campaigns to help us to get the information out to the population to increase awareness around matters such as the fact that controlling diabetes is not just about taking your medication,” she says.

“Diabetes is a lifestyle condition, and in another couple of months, we should have a media campaign around physical activity,” Dr. Skyers adds.

She emphasises that weight management is important in dealing with diabetes and points out that the Ministry has launched its Food-based Dietary Guidelines.

The guidelines are expected to help people understand food groups and how to plan meals to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance, which is the average daily level of intake that is sufficient to meet nutrient requirements.

Dr. Skyers further notes that there will be a social marketing campaign around nutrition.

“This will target persons with diabetes as well as the general population and is expected to reiterate that prevention and control are not just about diet and exercise,” she explains.

The Director says it is also important to remember the impact of alcohol use and smoking (tobacco and ganja), which increase the risk for NCDs.

She says the Ministry will again be looking to use publicity campaigns to increase awareness in this area.

“Within the course of 2021, we will be developing our media campaign around tobacco control and alcohol use,” she says, while pointing out that the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), an agency of the Ministry, currently has a campaign around ganja use.

Another measure, the Director says, was the recent completion of the Ministry’s NCD Screening Guidelines.

She highlights information from the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III, which indicates that four out of 10 persons who have diabetes or hypertension are not aware of their status, “so we are also getting a campaign up and running to encourage persons to be screened for these conditions, so they can be diagnosed and, if necessary, put on treatment”.

Dr. Skyers says that for persons who are at the stage of either pre-diabetes or pre- hypertension, the necessary interventions can take place.

She informs that work is also in progress at another level. “In terms of our health facilities, we try to ensure that our healthcare workers are having the necessary sessions and talks with our patients around the management of their conditions,” she explains, and adds that work is ongoing to strengthen what takes place at the health facility level.

“We’ll also be training our healthcare workers, looking at the area of motivational interviewing, because when you have a lifestyle condition, behaviour change is one of the most important lynchpins for addressing what needs to happen, so it’s not just your medication, your diet and exercise,” she says.

Dr. Skyers tells JIS News that they are trying to build the capacity of healthcare workers to be able to change the conversation that they are having with the patient beyond the prescription.

“Your interface is not just around the prescription but how you help them to work through the issues that relate to their lifestyle and behaviours that are impacting the outcomes of their diseases,” she outlines.

Another measure, Dr. Skyers points out, is that health centres have been outfitted with smart televisions, so advertisements that have been created for mass media are also played in that setting.

The Director points out that the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III would have given the global picture in terms of the levels of diabetes control.

She informs that the Haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test, which is the gold standard for monitoring diabetes control, gives an assessment of blood sugar over the last three months, “so that is certainly better than checking your blood sugar at that point when you come into a facility”.

To this end, Dr. Skyers says the Ministry will be increasing access to testing, to assist persons in assessing control.

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