“Celebration” is a word that should not be used in the same sentence as “World Diabetes Day”, but today on this ‘Hallmark-health’ milestone, millions will like the posts and share the platitudes of commercial operations that see fit to squeeze a dollar out of the disease.
In my opinion, every day in Saint Lucia should be Diabetes Day, if it means we can turn around the spread of this epidemic, which is a household name in the nation’s medical vocabulary.
Knowing the name, however, is not the same as knowing the disease and how to manage it.
By Dee Lundy-Charles [Blog Release Nov 14, 2018 – World Diabetes Day]
Through ignorance and lack of education about diabetes, Saint Lucia is losing a growing slice of the adult population to dismemberment and “death by sugar”, but the wrong message continues to be delivered to the people whose lives are at stake through ignorance.
Last year, the World Bank produced figures which showed the increase in prevalence of diabetes since 2007, the same year Saint Lucia was reported as having the highest rate per capita of in the world.
A sample of 31,000 Saint Lucians were screened for the study by Canadian urologist, Dr. Michael Graven, and according to the doctor, the results were “tantamount to a public health disaster”.
At the time, the Saint Lucia Diabetes & Hypertension Association (SLDHA) “cautioned against public panic”, according to a Caribbean Media Corporation report.
Head of the SLDHA in 2007, Mr. George Eugene warned the public that “the writing had been on the wall for years”, but limited resources restricted the amount of work the organisation could do to address the epidemic scale of the problem.
Emphasising personal as well as government responsibility, Mr. Eugene became passionate in his warnings that the problem of diabetes was not going away, as evidenced by the alarming statistics reported annually by the World Health Organisation and other international NGOs.
“We need to look at the things we import into the country and what we feed ourselves. We have to become more health conscious, we are an agricultural nation yet we hardly consume what we can grow,” he said at the time.
Fast forward to 2016, and Mr. Eugene was in the news again with the headline “Diabetes out of control at this moment”.
Seems like the public panic did not materialise, but then again, neither did the healthier lifestyles that SLDHA have been advocating for years.
And in 2017, just in time for World Diabetes Day, PAHO threw another factor into the mix.
In an article entitled “Obesity, a key driver of diabetes”, the Pan American Health Organisation stated that Type 2 diabetes was responsible for the majority of cases worldwide and “largely attributable to excessive bodyweight and physical inactivity”.
Simply put, despite more than two decades of public health education on diabetes, Saint Lucians are becoming diabetic because of our unhealthy eating and drinking habits, coupled with our lazy lifestyles.
In addition, the more Saint Lucians become obese, the more likely we are to contract diabetes, currently the number one cause of death and disability in our population.
Saint Lucia is no longer the Diabetes World Champion with our 11.68% of adults living with the disease. We’re not even the highest in the Caribbean, but as a region the rate is almost 12% – a proper pandemic and the most threatening health issue to impact the region in modern times.
The Saint Lucia Diabetes & Hypertension Association will celebrate its own milestone in 2019, but there may be little to celebrate, given the upward trajectory of diabetes cases, disabilities and deaths among our population since the creation of the organisation in 1989.
Apparently the message is still not getting through, despite their best efforts, but the question remains, why is it up to the SLDHA and their private sector collaborators to be responsible for educating a reluctant nation on the most dangerous public health crisis in the island’s history?
What have successive governments done to respond to the growth in the number of diabetic adults in Saint Lucia that started almost three decades ago, and the terrifying global projections that suggest 100 million people will be living with the disease in the next decade?
Slipping a few cents tax on to white sugar in 2014 was a Labour government initiative which was supposed to help reduce diabetes cases, but unfortunately it was an uninformed token bone to throw at the problem.
As medical thinking in all quarters will attest, diabetes is not about the white sugar. In a May 2014 interview with Kerwin ‘Cakes’ Caesar of the STAR, Mr. Eugene corrected Prime Minister Kenny Anthony’s misleading interpretation of the reasons behind the move.
“Sugar in itself does not cause diabetes,” he stated. “But what I think the prime minister [was] saying is that we have a serious problem with diabetics in the country. A lot of people are suffering with the condition and they need to be careful with their sugar consumption.”
So here we are again, celebrating the day of the diabetic, with Saint Lucia’s health infrastructure in crisis under Allen Chastanet’s UWP government, and a nation still fundamentally ignorant to the realities of the disease known as the silent killer.
According to the World Bank: “Despite 10% of Saint Lucians living with diabetes, the country has just one nurse who is specialized in diabetology. And it’s not alone. The study revealed similar treatment gaps across the region, since the rapid increase in prevalence rates has not translated into greater specialization for treating the disease.”
Terrifying prospect, isn’t it?
Saint Lucia Diabetes Stats for 2007 and 2017 from World Bank