In Trinidad and Tobago, the incidence of diabetes is 15 percent, which is higher than the global average of 10 percent.
One of the major challenges of the Ministry of Health is to get people with diabetes to change their lifestyle and take the medicines they provide to reduce the impact of the disease on their lives, said the Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh.
He was speaking at the opening of the Diabetes Association of TT (DATT) Carlton Phillips Diabetes Symposium at the UWI Teaching and Learning Auditorium, St Augustine Campus on Saturday.
His audience included health professionals, students and members of the Diabetes Association from Penal, Erin, Princes Town, Sangre Grande, Tobago, San Fernando, Gasparillo, Point Fortin and other areas.
Deyalsingh told them he had type 2 diabetes, a common illness that causes blood sugar (glucose) levels to rise too high.
He said he made changes to his life to help him manage the illness.
“I stopped drinking sugar in my coffee, I can stop drinking Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and I can stop eating a glass of ice cream every Sunday.”
But he lamented: “Not everyone has the will to make changes. »
He said the Ministry of Health spends millions to provide medicines, but people do not take them.
One person said that as a young person with type 2 diabetes, she had faced a lot of stigma surrounding diabetes, which had affected her mental health.
“Nurses at health centers have asked me: ‘What did you do to become diabetic so young?’ and “Do you want to give yourself a heart attack or stroke?” » and the language used arouses this feeling of enormous guilt and shame. I need you to advocate for healthcare workers to be aware of the language they use. »
Deyalsingh said this was an important point because he had met people who felt guilty for even telling their family.
Another audience member said there was a need for education in schools and religious institutions, which Deyalsingh said was already happening.
He said the problem was a global problem, with people divided into two categories: those who engage in health-seeking behavior and those who do not seek health.
Lisa Roberts said that in her clinical practice, diabetics suffering from burnout and depression could not find psychologists to help them manage these conditions.
Deyalsingh said the public health system could not accommodate 10,000 people seeking mental wellness and referred her to the ministry’s FindCareTT website.
Another participant said more education was needed about medications and their side effects because sometimes patients did not understand the effect of prescribed medications.
One audience member said she would like the minister to advocate for a work-from-home policy.
“The hours we spend in traffic going to and from work are time we could spend exercising or preparing a good meal, instead of grabbing Crix or an overly sugary granola bar.
“Part of the problem with taking medications regularly is that we fool ourselves into thinking that lifestyle changes alone mean we don’t need medications, and then we fall out of the habit of taking them. .”
Deyalsingh asked why diabetics continued to drink Coca-Cola, Pepsi and overly sweetened homemade juices if they knew it was bad for them, instead of water. The public unanimously agreed that sugar did them good.
Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, Dr Brian Cockburn, said the taste for sweets was one of five tastes humans had evolved to help them survive, and so the body craved it, which which made it difficult for people to give it up completely.
In his opening speech, Cockburn praised the association for its advocacy, which he said was much needed for people living with diabetes and their families.
Association president Dr Andrew Dhanoo said the theme of Diabetes Awareness Month was Access to Diabetes Care: Know Your Risk, Know Your Answer. He said people should know their non-modifiable risk factors, such as age, genetics and ethnicity, and try to control their modifiable factors, such as smoking, stress, eating habits and activity levels.
Pan American Health Organization representative Dr. Michelle Harris called on the ministry and government to reduce the obesogenic environment, which contributes to obesity, instead of placing the responsibility solely on the individual.
“Obesity is one of the main risk factors for diabetes.
“I was happy to see that Mt Hope Hospital was declared baby-friendly.
“We need to introduce front-of-pack labeling to give people the information they need to make the right choices.
“I am happy to learn that there will be a debate on sugar taxation at the symposium, as this is another measure that can be implemented.”
Harris said 62 million people in the Americas are living with type 2 diabetes, a figure three times higher than in 1980, and expected to reach 109 million by 2040. She said prevalence is increasing more rapidly in low- and middle-income countries.
In 2019, with 1,418 deaths from diabetes, she said, TT had the third highest mortality rate in the region, followed by Mexico and Guyana.
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