There are about 500 children in T&T with the life threatening Type 1 Diabetes who need daily doses of insulin to survive.
So said Zobida Ragbirsingh, vice-president of the International Diabetes Association and past president of the Diabetes Association of T&T (DATT. Yesterday was World Diabetes Day.
Some of these children have the disease from birth which is caused by the pancreas, on its own, mysteriously destroying insulin-producing cells.
They have to be given insulin two, three times a day to survive.
On the other hand, there is a growing number of children in T&T with Type 11 Diabetes, traced to a sedentary lifestyle and bad diet.
Those are the children who are always seen in a corner hunched over their cellphones or computers, their fingers getting the most amount of exercise, Ragbirsingh said.
She did not have figures for that group but said according to a study in the Point Fortin area by John Hopkins University, 30 per cent of the children there were overweight or obese. There are strong links between obesity and diabetes.
Ragbirsingh said T&T's diabetic children were members of the DATT and have monthly meetings.
She said DATT, with the Rotary Club, had begun a diabetes educational programme in schools.
There are over 175,000 people with diabetes in T&T and many more who do not know they have it, DATT says.
It's reported that one in every seven people in T&T has the disease and, like the rest of the world, most have Type 11 Diabetes.
Diabetes is reportedly the second leading cause of death in T&T.
In fact, T&T now ranks number one in North America and the Caribbean in diabetes cases.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the cost to the State to treat diabetic patients is "millions and millions."
Diabetologist, Dr Claude Khan, said eight to ten per cent of the last health budget of $3 billion was spent on diabetes drug therapy ad blood testing and surmised the figure may be around $100 to $200 million annually.
Diabetic patients, through the public health system's Chronic Disease Assistance Programme (CDAP), can access free of charge expensive insulin and other medication as well as glucometers and strips.
'I took charge'
Allan who served as general manager of an important state company, was diagnosed with diabetes 30 years ago. He's over 60 now, healthy and happy.
He recalled: "I was in shock when I was told my sugar level was in the 400s.
"But I didn't blame God or anyone. I had spent a lot of time sitting in the office not exercising.
"I realised it was up to me to do something to make a change to stave off the effect of diabetes.
"I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started working on it. I took charge."
Allan said with his wife's support, he began a rigid health regime, cutting out sugar, soft drinks, highly sweetened foods and white flour and cutting down on things like rice.
"We began to walk every day.
"I am managing my sugar level and, most times, it is pretty okay," he added.
Retired now, he said he tried to keep stress out of his life since that also caused the sugar level to rise. "I keep my brain active," he said.
Allan sources his diabetes medication from CDAP and said apart from a few hiccups, the system works pretty well for him.
"This is State-sponsored medication and there's no excuse for people with diabetes who say they can't afford treatment," he said.
No diabetic diet
"We no longer talk about a diabetic diet," says diabetologist Dr Claude Khan. "We talk about healthy eating," he said. Khan said food portions are extremely important. "This is the main problem in T&T. Too much roti and rice on the plate," he added.
Khan said diabetics did not have to cut out rice entirely, just cut back. And flour? Stick to the healthier mix.
"Instead of white flour, use multi-grain or whole wheat. Use more ground provisions, lean, white meat, lots of vegetables and salads. "The vegetables and salads should make up most of the plate," he said.
Khan said it had been shown that those newly diagnosed with Type 11 Diabetes had a reversal of the disease when they lost 15 to 20 pounds.
"Those who also had gastric bypass surgery have shown amazing results. They lost a lot of weight and their diabetes almost disappeared," he added. Khan said as soon as someone finds out his sugar level was abnormally high he should see his family doctor or visit the nearest public health clinic. "In the clinic, he is seen by the doctor and has a follow up every three to four months. Complex cases are referred to the hospitals," he explained.
He said the individual would have to start eating healthy and exercising and may have to be on medication at first.