Life with diabetes can be a daily struggle.
From following a strict diet and exercising, to taking medication, and constantly monitoring glucose levels, living with the disease can take a toll on the physical and emotional well-being of suffers, which can worsen their condition.
It is for this reason that the Westmoreland Health Department has stepped in to establish a Diabetes Support Group at the Whitehouse Health Centre, to help diabetics served by the clinic to cope with the non-communicable disease (NCD).
The group was established on February 14, 2017 and meets every second Tuesday of each month at the clinic, where diabetics fighting the same battle, can come together to empower and encourage each other, while learning how to better manage their condition.
Health Promotion and Education Officer for Westmoreland, Dorcia Scott-Bowlin, who facilitates the group meetings, tells JIS News that the objective is to educate and provide support to individuals, who have been struggling to control their blood sugar levels.
She says that the group provides a safe haven where members can freely talk about the struggles they face.
“When we have a meeting…we allow them to talk among themselves as well, so they talk to each other about what they do to control their condition. They share the information that they have and support each other,” she shares.
Mrs. Scott-Bowlin tells JIS News that the support group was launched after a survey indicated that there were a large number of persons in the Whitehouse health district with diabetes.
Persons are referred to the group by nurses, Community Health Aides (CHA) and doctors.
“We started out with three to four persons in the first two or three months then it grew where we have at least seven steady members. From time to time, the number goes up to 14 or more, especially on days where we have special occasions,” she shares.
On those special occasions, experts are invited to provide a wealth of information and ideas on ways to make managing diabetes easier, such as diabetic-friendly recipes and tips on healthy eating during the holidays.
“If we have someone coming to do eye screenings then we have a good turnout. Also, when the nutritionist comes in to do a food demonstration or somebody from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) to teach them how they can prepare diabetic-friendly meals from readily available food items,” she notes.
Mrs. Scott-Bowlin tells JIS News that special emphasis is placed on the importance of physical activity in controlling diabetes, pointing out that a partnership has been forged with the physiotherapy department at the Savanna-La-Mar Hospital to work with members.
She says that members are also educated about how to manage their blood pressure, as type 2 diabetes tends to increase the risk of hypertension.
“We also ask them to bring in labels of food items that they regularly use. What we realize is that most of them had hypertension as well, so we would look at (the labels) to see the amount of sodium and we were better able to guide them,” she explains.
Mrs. Scott-Bowlin says that the group sessions have been successful in helping members manage their blood sugar levels.
“For the most consistent members, when we went back and do a docket search for them, it was shown that their blood sugars were being controlled since coming to the group,” she shares.
She notes that while the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has halted face-to-face meetings, communication continues with members virtually.
Doretha Brown, who has been living with diabetes for 11 years has high praises for the diabetes support group.
She joined the group some three years ago and consistently shows up for monthly meetings.
Ms. Brown tells JIS News that the wealth of information provided at the sessions has been instrumental in helping her to control her diabetes.
“Going to the clinic, it is good, because we get good teaching about our diabetes and how we should eat. Mrs. Bowlin, we are glad for her because she comes and she teaches us and we enjoy the things that she suggests to us. She teaches us how to keep our diet and that we shouldn’t drink too much sweet and we should drink water,” she shares.
“She and her team will come and have us do exercises and so we really enjoy what’s going on,” she adds.
Diabetes is a chronic or lifelong disease, in which the body fails to make insulin or to properly use the insulin that it makes. Insulin is a hormone needed by the body to change food into glucose, which is used by the cells for energy.
Without careful management, diabetes can lead to a build-up of sugar in the blood, which can increase the risk of dangerous complications such as stroke and heart disease.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 422 million people globally have diabetes, the majority being from low and middle-income countries such as Jamaica, while 1.6 million deaths are directly attributed to the disease.