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

The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW), in collaboration with its partners, successfully staged a month of activities on diabetes awareness, during November.

Director of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) at the Ministry, Dr. Nicola Skyers, tells JIS News that the global theme for World Diabetes Day, which focused on nurses, was adopted for the local observation.

She explains that the theme – ‘Diabetes: Nurses Make a Difference’ – came against the background of 2020 being designated as the ‘Year of the Nurse’ by the World Health Organization (WHO).

As a result, Dr. Skyers says, the role of nurses was highlighted, noting that “quite a few activities were done, generally around that theme and, of course, nurses play a significant role in the care of persons with diabetes”.

According to Dr. Skyers, the Ministry partnered with the National Health Fund (NHF), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Diabetes Association of Jamaica, and the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) to plan the month’s activities.

“Although globally it is observed on one day, in our context, given the burden of the disease, we commemorate an entire month” she says.

“It is a group of partners, public sector, civil society, ministries and agencies [that came] together to put a plan of action for the month in place to raise awareness and increase public engagement in this particular field,” Dr. Skyers adds, pointing out that the representatives sat together and used their various strengths to bring attention to the area.

The month’s activities began on November 6 with a panel discussion hosted by Portfolio Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, which focused on the Holistic Management of Diabetes.

The Director says there were also two outreach activities led by the Diabetes Association of Jamaica in collaboration with the Ministry and the Regional Health Authorities.

“On the 10th [of November] there was an outreach activity in Pembroke Hall, delivering services to persons in the community. As you would be aware, persons with diabetes and other chronic conditions fare the worst when it comes to COVID-19 and, as such, we have noted that persons [having been advised to stay home] are not coming out as much for care, and understandably so,” she explains.

Against this background, Dr. Skyers says that in addition to the regular practice of the health centres calling persons to see how they are doing and ensuring they receive their medication, “we thought it important for this month to actually have these activities”.

“For the one on the 10th of November in Pembroke Hall, just under 100 persons were seen and the medication was not limited to diabetics and persons with chronic conditions,” she further informs.

Dr. Skyers points out that persons were screened for diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol, and given medication as required. A similar activity, also led by the Association, took place in the community of Troja in St. Catherine on November 19.

On November 13, Dr. Tufton also participated in a PAHO panel discussion where the WHO announced the Global Diabetes Compact, an initiative aimed at improving access for persons with diabetes.

“So they get all their medication, all the paramedical services that they need to ensure that they have the best outcome,” Dr. Skyers explains.

On World Diabetes Day, WHO announced the GDC, a comprehensive and inclusive approach to support countries in implementing effective programmes for the prevention and management of diabetes.

The Compact will bring together in one package, all WHO material available for the prevention and management of diabetes, both existing and new.

On the prevention side, particular focus will be given to reducing obesity, especially among young people. On the treatment side, emphasis will be on improving access to diabetes medicines and technologies, in particular in low- and middle-income countries.

Key to the success of the Compact will be alignment and united action across all sectors – public, private and philanthropic. A church service was held on World Diabetes Day, November 14, at the Portmore Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Minister’s message was read by a healthcare worker and there was a special prayer for persons living with diabetes.

The Ministry launched its public-private partnership for NCD care with a focus on diabetes and hypertension on November 17.

Dr. Skyers highlights the fact that Minister Tufton made an announcement earlier in the year, during the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, where the Ministry would be trying to ensure that NCD patients who are at highest risk for COVID-19 have options, in terms of points of access for care.

“We worked through most of the logistics and we have now launched the initiative,” she says.

The final event was Clinical Management Training on Diabetes, held on Sunday December 6, where the Caribbean College of Family Physicians trained a wide cross section of public- and private-sector clinicians in the management of diabetes.

“We had radio and television interviews and our social media postings were done throughout the month as well,” Dr. Skyers tells JIS News.

The NCD Director also highlights that the activities of the partner organisations, such as the Rotary Club and Heart Foundation, were also successful.

One such activity was a webinar that was led by the Rotary Club of Jamaica South Central.

Assistant Governor for Rotary District 7020, Jamaica South Central, Dr. William Aiken, explains that the District Governor, who has oversight for 80 Rotary Clubs in 10 countries across the Caribbean, among other engagements, has as his priority, the prevention of childhood obesity and diabetes.

Assistant Governor for Rotary District 7020 Jamaica South Central and Consultant Urologist, Dr. William Aiken.

 

“Bearing in mind that, districtwide, the focus is on diabetes prevention, as we saw World Diabetes Day approaching we decided to collaborate with the Diabetes Association of Jamaica and other Rotary Clubs in Jamaica South Central and overseas as well,” he explains.

He indicates that a total of six clubs participated – the Rotary Clubs of Downtown Kingston, Liguanea Plains, New Kingston, and St Andrew North (which comprise Jamaica South Central), along with Rotary Club of Liamuiga in St. Kitts and St. Martin Sunset in St. Martin.

“In collaboration with the Diabetes Association of Jamaica, we staged a webinar in which we got world leading experts such as Professor Errol Morrison and Professor Marvin Reid, who are both Rotarians, and several other doctors to do presentations,” Dr. Aiken says.

According to Dr. Aiken, a urologist, who was himself a presenter on the urological aspects of diabetes and how the disease affects male sexual function, there were also gynaecologists who spoke about diabetes during pregnancy and the disease’s effect on female sexual function.

He points out that a major driving force behind the staging of the webinar was the understanding that diabetes is a major public health problem, with statistics showing that one in every four persons over 60 is diabetic.

Dr. Aiken adds that with diabetes being a major cause of morbidity and conditions such as kidney failure, blindness and limb loss, it was important to get involved.

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