Eyes on Diabetes
Trudy Griffith, Interim First Vice President of the Diabetes Association of Barbados
November 14 is observed as World Diabetes Day. According to the International Diabetes Federation, in 2015 some 415 million people across the world were reported to be living with diabetes. It is having a devastating impact on the Caribbean, which has double the global rate of the disease.
Half of the people living with diabetes don’t know it.
The theme of this year’s World Diabetes Day is ‘Eyes on Diabetes’ which aims to encourage people to get tested.
Trudy Griffith, Interim First Vice President of the Diabetes Association of Barbados explains why this is so important.
“We recognise that we are dealing with an epidemic of diabetes, and if one in two people who are walking around with the condition is simply not aware of the fact, we have a real problem.
Firstly, it’s necessary to screen adults so that they know their status. Secondly, we want to screen for eye complications in diabetes which can cause blindness if not detected. So it’s a two-pronged approach.”
So are you saying that all adults should get themselves tested for diabetes?
Definitely. Let me clarify: in terms of the risk factors for diabetes, some of them are non-modifiable such as family history, age, gender and ethnicity. You can’t change your age, you can’t change your gender. But you can change the modifiable risk factors related to lifestyle choices in terms of diet, physical activity, consumption of alcohol and obesity. We do need to screen a significant proportion of our adult population as they have risk factors for diabetes.
You mentioned age as a risk factor. At what age should someone make sure they get tested?
40-59 is recognised as the age group where many persons are being diagnosed with diabetes so it is paramount for them. And if people are identified and confirmed as having diabetes or have higher than normal blood sugar, i.e. pre-diabetes, they can start to make appropriate lifestyle changes, and if prescribed medication they can adhere to their treatment regimens, to control and manage their condition.
Diabetes is complicated
Can you tell me a bit more about the consequences of diabetes?
A simple explanation is that blood vessels and nerves are critical to the functions of the human body. In uncontrolled diabetes, blood vessels and nerves become damaged, and if this continues for a prolonged period of time, can lead to many complications. We’ve already mentioned blindness, but uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.
What is the Diabetes Association of Barbados doing to help with screening in Barbados?
Throughout the year, we perform diabetes risk assessments and screenings at our office as well as at community outreaches using our mobile unit. Our screening includes measurement of weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol as well as HbA1c1, if deemed necessary. Based on the results, we have the capacity to offer additional services such as nutrition counselling, dental checks and education both to individuals and groups.
In summary, we provide a multitude of services in keeping with our mission “to improve the quality of life for persons living with diabetes and those at risk of developing diabetes through up-to-date education, good self-management and control of their condition”.
For World Diabetes Day this year, we have partnered with Republic Bank Ltd, the sponsor of our mobile unit, to offer screenings at five of their branches across the island. This is in addition to the eye screening by an ophthalmologist that we are facilitating at our office.
Have you seen the number of people living with diabetes increasing in Barbados?
Yes, our numbers are increasing. We have seen it increase to 18% of our population that we now know has diabetes. And if half the adults who have it don’t know it, that percentage may well be double. We need to find out. That is why screening is so important.
A perfect storm
The Caribbean has double the global rates of diabetes; why do you think that is?
I think it’s related to our dietary choices. We have moved away from ground provisions and fruits and vegetables and now have more of a fast food lifestyle. So more people are not making the best choices in what they eat.
Additionally, we have a high number of adults who are obese. And the levels of physical activity have decreased. So really and truly, you have three major factors that have come together to create a perfect storm as it relates to the disease. We are also seeing more children and young people with type 2 diabetes which is really worrying.
Looking to the future
You’ve painted a bit of a bleak picture; are you optimistic that the situation will improve?
We are optimistic that people will become more aware and we’re trying to build on this. Some people are making a push towards better lifestyle choices and we encourage that. Last year we celebrated our 40th anniversary and we ran a campaign: “Keep the Culture, Cut the Fat”.
We had 12 new recipes of local food items prepared in a healthier way and we’ve published them in a booklet that we’re distributing free of charge. We’ve shown that we can all make these small choices that will have a significant impact on blood sugar control and our risk of developing diabetes.
Do you have a message for the people of the Caribbean?
Unlike type I diabetes which is unrelated to lifestyle, with type 2 diabetes we have a choice: it is not an automatic development even if you are at risk. There are changes you can make to reduce that risk. Make those choices for yourself, your family, your community, and your nation. Make those choices for your life!”
Living with diabetes: “Education is the key”
Florence Bissett-Goddard has been living with diabetes for around 25 years. She is a volunteer at the Diabetes Association of Barbados.
When I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, about six months after my last child was born, I didn’t have much of a reaction, it wasn’t a condition I was too aware of. Actually, I was in denial for number of years as I didn’t realise how serious it was.
It’s affected me a great deal as a result. For example, my kidneys are impaired and I’ve had a stroke. It has really been a challenge, but through the association and education I’ve learned a lot. I wasn’t doing anything to help myself before. I wasn’t taking my medication properly. My blood sugar was out of control.
Making the change
But I’m really looking after myself now. I have changed my diet and taken up an exercise programme. I’m having problems with my feet but generally walk about five days a week. I also take my medication religiously.
I feel much healthier and being a member of the association has really helped me with the management of the condition. I also help to educate others by going out and talking to people so they can learn from my experience. It’s really important to learn how to look after yourself. You have to take it seriously to avoid blindness, stroke, heart disease, and nerve damage. Get educated, protect yourself, and if you have diabetes, learn to manage your condition. The information is out there.
For more information contact the Diabetes Association of Barbados at www.diabetes.bb or 1 246 427-9338.
Have a look at the Healthy Caribbean Coalition’s coverage of World Diabetes Day here.
PAHO social media materials here.
For more on the World Diabetes Day around the world the click here.
Details of where you can get screened are here.
1Measuring HbA1c gives an overall picture of average blood sugar levels over time.