Termed, the ‘silent killer’, Diabetes Mellitus, is a chronic disease that is characterised by the presence of high levels of sugar in the blood and, if not managed properly, can be a life-threatening metabolic disorder, which can lead to blindness, loss of body parts, damage to the nerves, blood vessels/arteries, or even death.
This usually occurs in cases where the body experiences insulin deficiency, or insulin resistance which prevents sugars from breaking down effectively. It also prevents glucose in the blood from moving efficiently into the cells, which results in the high concentration of sugar in the blood.
Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that approximately 347 million persons worldwide actually have diabetes, and that 80 per cent of these persons live in low-and middle-income countries.
Here in Jamaica, the Ministry of Health (MOH) notes that diabetes, along with other chronic non-communicable diseases, actually account for over 56 per cent of deaths, islandwide. Importantly, the 2008 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey indicated that diabetes is more prevalent in women aged 15 to 74, compared to their male counterparts.
The statistics indicate that one in every 12 persons is suffering from diabetes; while 13.6 per cent of the adult population has diabetes. It is also an alarming fact that an estimated 25 per cent of those affected are not aware of their diabetic condition.
It is for this reason that the Diabetes Association of Jamaica (DAJ) was established in 1976, to chart programmes and services that would encourage the primary prevention of the disease and the secondary prevention of complications associated with it.
Commenting on the work of the DAJ, Executive Chairperson, Lurline Less says it “has been focusingheavily on secondary prevention; but now that we see the increase and ‘pressuring burden’ of the children, we will have to include primary prevention in our focus.”
Mrs. Less notes that the organisation has been implementing programmes, in an effort to curtail the increase in the number of chronic non-communicable diseases. This is a very important move, Mrs. Less says, as too many persons are becoming diabetic and there are still too many diabetics unaware of their condition.
With this objective mind, the DAJ will, in its observance of World Diabetes Day and National Diabetes Week 2012, seek to promote the messages of prevention, screening for early detection, treatment and management.
Themed: ‘Diabetes Education and Prevention; Diabetes: Protecting our Future’, the focus of the Week (November 12 to 17) is to increase public awareness about the debilitating lifestyle disease and its management in children and adolescents.
Mrs. Less emphasises that preventive measures must be taken to ensure that individuals do not develop the disease, adding that it is imperative that Jamaicans maintain healthy lifestyles by eating healthy foods and engaging in physical activity, as obesity is a primary risk factor for diabetes.
To herald the start of the Week, the Association will be conducting two school visits at the Papine High School in St. Andrew and Dunoon Technical High School in Eastern Kingston on November 12 and 13, respectively. This will be done in an effort to conduct screenings and to educate students and teachers about the disease.
On World Diabetes Day (Wednesday, November 14), screenings will be conducted at the Bank of Jamaica, the John Mills All Age School and at the DAJ’s head office located at 1 Downer Avenue in the Kingston 5 region.
Messages will also be sent through the mainstream media to ensure that Jamaicans are equipped with information on diabetes through an outside broadcast at the head office on World Diabetes Day.
The Association will also be hosting its community day and education programme in the Riversdale Community in St. Catherine on November 15; and on Friday, November 16 screenings and educational discussions will be held at the Camperdown High School in Kingston.
Mrs. Less notes that on Friday, the DAJ will also be continuing its Diabetes Support Group Project, which has been organised with the aim of assisting individuals who have been recently diagnosed with the disease.
To culminate the week of activities, the Association, in collaboration with the Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS), will be hosting its Beat Diabetes Walkathon at the Emancipation Park in New Kingston, on November 17, beginning at 6:00 a.m.
This, she says, forms part of the DAJ’s thrust to promote the importance of physical activity in the management and prevention of diabetes.
Other activities to be held on Saturday include screening and the registration of young adults and children with diabetes.
The Executive Chairperson is encouraging persons who have symptoms of diabetes to visit their medical doctor, so that treatment and management methods can begin. The symptoms of diabetes include ageing, obesity, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, excessive thirst, eating and urination.
She says that diabetes is a lifestyle disease that cannot be cured, but can be properly managed. She is also urging all Jamaicans to hone proper health and lifestyle habits, so that diabetes can be prevented, thereby maintaining a good quality of life.
Mrs. Less tells JIS News that the agency is committed to achieving its mandate, which is to encourage primary and secondary prevention.