It is estimated that there are more than 175,000 people currently living with diabetes in T&T and millions of dollars are being spent by the Government to treat patients. This is according to the Diabetes Association of T&T.
Officials are alarmed that the epidemic has ballooned out of control and with the financial burden increasing yearly for the State, they are worried that if it continues unchecked, T&T could soon find itself being declared a sick nation.
Public Relations Officer of the Diabetes Association of T&T (Datt) Zobida Ragbirsingh
said diabetes has proven to be a significant public health challenge in the 21st century and in T&T, "we have a population of people that are harden…they simply don’t listen until it’s too late".
Ragbirsingh said, “Many of them would have pre-diabetes. These are people walking about whose blood sugar is above the normal levels, but not high enough for them to be diagnosed with diabetes.”
She attributed the high prevalence of diabetes to genetics. She explained, “Genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.”
Some people simply refuse to get their health checked and continue to make poor lifestyle choices.
On average, Government spends around $10,000 per person per month for dialysis, one of the consequences of renal failure brought on by diabetes.
In addition, a cocktail of medication, including insulin, can cost as much as $2,000 and this does not include doctor's visits, tests at labs, and hospitalisation.
The Government provides medication through the Chronic Disease Assistance Programme (CDAP) for diabetics, but when it's not available, they have to dip into their own pockets.
Asked if enough was being done to address the diabetes epidemic in T&T, Ragbirsingh responded, “There is a big cloud of secrecy surrounding people diagnosed with diabetes.”
Several attempts last week to get figures and information from the Ministry of Health on diabetes in T&T proved unsuccessful.
Govt spends $296 million on diabetics in 2007
A 2010 report by Dr Kenwyn Nicholls titled The Diabetes Epidemic in T&T found that back then, between 102,000 to 145,000 people were suffering from diabetes.
He stated, "Type 2 diabetes and its complications have reached epidemic proportions in Trinidad & Tobago and are forecasted to get worse."
Indeed, it has gotten worse based on estimated figures given by Datt.
He said this has dire implications not just for the individual family "which must find the resources to deal with a loved one who has gone blind, had a leg amputated, or is in need of dialysis", but for the public purse as a result of burgeoning costs both direct—doctors visits, prescriptions, labs, and hospitalisations, as well as indirect—the loss of productive years through death and temporary or permanent disability.
Nicholls' report stated, "For T&T, with 143,000 known diabetics in 2007, an estimated US$49,335,000 (TT$296,010,000) was spent on diabetes for that year."
"It is likely that these figures represent direct costs," he said
If indirect costs such as loss of earnings due to illness or premature death, disability payments, time lost from work, etc, are factored in, Nicholls stated, "then the economic debacle assumes even more gravid proportions with decidedly negative effects on the GDP".
Nov 14 is World Diabetes Day
November is Diabetes Awareness Month and November 14 is World Diabetes Day.
Figures reveal that the number of people living with diabetes internationally is estimated to rise by almost 552 million by 2030. Ragbirsingh said, "In the region of the Americas under which T&T falls, there are 35 million people said to be living with diabetes."
Of this number, 54 per cent lives in Latin America. It is projected that by 2025, it will increase to 64 per cent.
Ragbirsingh said, “Diabetes was listed as the third leading cause of death in the world since 2006.”
Referring to a White Paper produced in 2012 on the State of Diabetes and Health Care in the South West Regional Health Authority, diabetes was ranked as the number two killer in T&T.
Sparrow diagnosed over 50 years: It affects me big time
Calypso King of the World, Slinger Francisco, better known as The Mighty Sparrow has been living with diabetes for more than 50 years.
With a career spanning more than 40 years, Francisco, who will turn 84 next July, laughed scandalously as he said, “It impacts me greatly in that I can’t make moves as I used to. Having it for the length of time as I do, has made it very difficult to move around as I want to.”
Sparrow is known for thrilling his audience with his onstage antics which includes gyrating.
Revealing his regimen of medication included some tablets twice daily, while others are taken three times daily, Francisco said he was also required to take insulin twice per day and depending on how high his blood sugar is, he takes it three times per day.
Although he was forced to change his diet and is unable to eat everything as he used to, Francisco advised people, “Moderation is key.”
Recalling the early days of being diagnosed with diabetes, Francisco said, “I thought it was not something to be taken too seriously at all, but as I got older I realised how serious it was.
“It affects me big time, too! My head is telling me one thing and my body is telling me one thing…they are clashing.”
He implored people to exercise in order to keep their weight down and watch their diet.
“Don’t be afraid to go to doctors because they can handle it better than you can. You are not doing any good by hiding and refusing to go, you will cause more harm to yourself.”
Sparrow sought to reassure people, “There is nothing to fear, it is something you can control and deal with. It isn’t the end of the world, that’s why I am appealing to them not to be scared.
“Diabetes is not something that you buy, diabetes is not something you look for, it’s inherent and there for you from since you born, be aware of it and take care of it.”
In his trademark deep, sweet voice, the artiste par excellence, added, “Trust in the doctor, and he will help you with all the many things you do.”
What is diabetes?
It is a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood.
What is the main cause of diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition associated with abnormally high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
Insulin produced by the pancreas lowers blood glucose.
Absence or insufficient production of insulin, or an inability of the body to properly use insulin causes diabetes.
What are the early signs of diabetes?
Common warnings include increased thirst; increased hunger (especially after eating); dry mouth; frequent urination or urine infections; unexplained weight loss (even though you are eating and feel hungry); fatigue (weak, tired feeling); blurred vision; headaches; slow healing wounds; tingling in hands and feet; and skin problems.
Diabetes leads to:
Diabetes can be effectively managed when caught early. However, when left untreated, it can lead to potential complications that include heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and nerve damage.
Next week—Sunday Guardian takes a look at children living with diabetes in T&T.