Theme: “Diabetes: Protect Your Family”
Delivered by Minister of State with Responsibility for Health, Social Services, Gender Affairs & Community Development
Hon Wendy Colleen Phipps
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis:
The period Sunday, November 10th to Sunday, November 17th has been designated as “Diabetes Awareness Week 2019” in our Country. The major highlight of the week of activities is the observance of World Diabetes Day which is set for Thursday, November 14, 2019. World Diabetes Day is celebrated on November 14th of each year and, this year, it is being done under the theme “Diabetes: Protect Your Family”.
It must be noted that the major reasons for observing World Diabetes Day, and “Diabetes Awareness Week” in our Federation are the following:
- To emphasize the heavy impact that diabetes has had on our people;
- To sensitize the public on the work of both the Ministries of Health and the St. Kitts Diabetes Association in reducing the incidence of diabetes in our Country;
- To educate the public on the benefits of health screenings for diabetes, given that early detection of the condition, and lifestyle and behaviour modification will result in a better quality of life for those who must now live with this health complication; and
- To encourage the public to access the public health services that are provided free of cost at the Nation’s 17 health centres and four (4) hospitals. These services include regular diabetic clinics, provision of medication to control diabetes, blood sugar testing, and advice on personal health maintenance, including diet, exercise, hygiene, and foot care.
The decision of the St. Kitts Diabetes Association to have the observance of World Diabetes Day encased in a week of activities is certainly not accidental. It is a well-established fact that diabetes is considered one of the major health problems included in the suite of illnesses that are called Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs). Others in this cadre of illnesses include cancers, hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already determined that some 63% of global deaths are attributed to these NCDs. For us in St. Kitts and Nevis, the statistics are even more glaring: some 83% of all deaths in our Federation are due to NCDs.
To put diabetes in clearer local context I should state that our public health data indicates that our Federation has approximately 2500 registered diabetics. Over time, diabetes can affect the proper functioning of a person’s kidneys. It is for this reason why the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis has partnered with the Government of Taiwan on a Chronic Kidney Disease Project in our Nation’s health centres. At present, there are some 236 persons registered with the Chronic Kidney Disease Clinics and, of this number, some 36 persons are currently on dialysis treatments. By way of information, I should note here that when an individual has to resort to dialysis it means that his/her kidneys are no longer functioning properly. I should also state that it was in response to this growing problem of kidney disease among diabetics that our Team Unity Administration has added – over the past four years - some seven (7) haemodialysis machines to the Haemodialysis Unit housed at the JNF General Hospital.
It would be remiss of me if I did not use this national address to take some time to explain, in simple terms what the condition of diabetes is all about. Diabetes is a medical term used to refer to the condition that results from the body being unable to produce the hormone insulin. Insulin is required to process the sugars we consume in our diets. In a healthy person, an organ called the pancreas would produce insulin that is needed by the body to transport glucose (or blood sugar) from our blood stream and into our cells, where the glucose is broken down to produce energy. When the pancreas either fails to produce insulin, or an ample and efficient supply of the hormone to break down glucose into energy, this condition is referred to as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, respectively. The most common form of diabetes is Type 2 (representing 90% of cases) and can be controlled with a healthy diet, regular exercise, constant monitoring of blood glucose levels, and the maintenance of a healthy body weight. Over time, the diabetic may need to supplement these positive health practices with medication.
Among the complications associated with diabetes are strokes, heart attacks, blindness, nerve damage, toe and lower limb amputations, and also kidney failure – which I would have mentioned earlier. I would have already stated that the 2019 theme chosen for World Diabetes Day is “Diabetes: Protect Your Family”. The choice of this theme by the WHO and the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) is deliberately meant to continue their campaigns of previous years that have sought to showcase the impact of diabetes on families. This is certainly not surprising, given that the family is the building block of societies and nations. Moreover, diabetes has – along with all other NCDs – transcended health and has now become a socio-economic challenge that affects not just the persons being diagnosed with the condition, but also their families.
The impact of diabetes can certainly be felt in many ways, including but not limited to the following:
1) The ability to continue earning a living, depending on how much one’s health is affected by the illness;
2) The possibility of having to change careers and livelihoods. For example: in a family where only the father works outside of the home, perhaps as a bus driver or taxi driver - a diabetes diagnosis may mean that at some point he may not be able to continue in this profession if he suffers from diabetic neuropathy - or worse - if his condition results in him having to receive a life-saving amputation of a lower limb: perhaps a foot or a leg. Depending on the financial and other circumstances the family, their socio-economic status can quickly downgrade into one of reduced income and borderline poverty – unless social safety net programmes are accessed and other family members seek employment or develop other income streams;
3) The relatively high cost of financing life-saving haemodialysis treatments. Presently, a dialysis patient receiving three (3) treatments per week could most likely be faced with an annual medical bill of approximately $125,000. This is certainly not a small cost!
4) Depending on how dramatically diabetes affects a family member, other family members may be forced to give up their own livelihoods to stay at home and render full-time care to the one who is ill. Over time, the health of the caregiver can also be compromised – just from the sheer physical and emotional toll that such constant care can cause.
In light of all of the various modes of impact that diabetes can have on individuals and their families it should go without saying that diabetes should never be taken lightly. Our national challenges with diabetes are, however, not unique - given that the condition is common all over the world. The WHO and the IDF, for example, have estimated that the global population of persons living with diabetes is approximately 425 million. It is also estimated that 50% of the persons with diabetes are undiagnosed. This is both unfortunate and also avoidable. The IDF also posits that 80% of the cases of Type 2 diabetes are preventable through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. In light of these statistics, the Federal Ministry of Health advocates that every citizen and resident must make a personal commitment to know their status regarding diabetes by having regular medical check-ups. We encourage all of our citizens and residents to also access the free primary health care available at our Nation’s 17 health centres.
At those centres, prescriptions for diabetic medication can also be filled for free, for persons under the age of 16 and over the age of 62. Persons outside of this age group, that is, individuals aged 17 to 61 can also have their prescriptions filled via payment of the small cover charge of $10.
The major events planned for the observance of “Diabetes Awareness Week 2019” are as follows:
- Sunday, November 10th – Church Service to be held at 9:00 am at the Pro-Cathedral of George in Basseterre;
- Monday, November 11th – Start of two days of Educational Presentations in Schools & a Panel Discussion on ZIZ Radio & Television, starting at 8:00 pm;
- Wednesday, November 13th – Continued Medical Education (CME) programme at the classroom of the JNF General Hospital;
- Thursday, November 14th – World Diabetes Day – when the public is encouraged to wear something Blue in solidarity with those persons who are living with diabetes;
- Friday, November 15th – Grand Public Health Screening Day at Independence Square, from at 8:00 am to 1:00 pm;
- Saturday, November 16th – (i) Diabetes Awareness Walk, starting at 6:00 am. The walk begins at the War Memorial in Basseterre, continues to the Ram’s-Bird Rock Parking Lot and ends at the War Memorial; & (ii) in the evening, there will be an Awards Banquet to be held at Royal St. Kitts Hotel, starting at 7:30 pm; and
- Sunday, November 17th – Annual General Meeting of the St. Kitts Diabetes Association, to be held at the Anglican Church Hall in Basseterre, starting at 3:00 pm.
The Ministry of Health once again congratulates the St. Kitts Diabetes Association for strong, sustained and invaluable partnership role which its members continue to play in educating and promoting health and wellness imperatives among our people. Government cannot achieve improved health and wellness of our citizens without the partnership, collaboration and support of civil society organisations (CSOs), and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the local, regional and international communities. As such, the partnership with the St. Kitts Diabetes Association stands out as a model in this regard. We applaud the Association’s efforts at reducing the incidence of diabetes in our population, and helping to control its often dreadful impact on diabetics, their families, their livelihoods and their quality of life.
The Ministry of Health publicly thanks the leadership of the St. Kitts Diabetes Association for their yeoman service in the fight against diabetes.
These individuals are:
- President ~ Community Nurse Manager, Ms Christine Wattley
- Vice President ~ Co-ordinator of Community Nursing Services, Ms Davida Irish
- Secretary ~ Nurse Mary Caines
- Treasurer ~ Mrs Merle Liburd-Browne
- Public Relations Officer ~ Dr Reginald O’Loughlin
- Nominated Members ~ Randolph Taylor, Jasmin Hanley, Laverne Millington and Janelle Lewis-Tafari
The Ministry of Health also thanks the general membership of the Association for their ongoing support and partnership in helping to improve the health and quality of life for all persons living with diabetes. Their support of the Association has done much in terms of spreading the messages that (a) while diabetes can be a debilitating disease it is also not a death sentence; and (b) every individual must take responsibility for his /her health by doing everything possible to prevent the onset of diabetes.
The Federal Ministry of Health encourages the general public to actively support the planned activities in observance of World Diabetes Day and “Diabetes Awareness Week 2019”. The Ministry further encourages every citizen and resident of the Federation get screened for diabetes by having regular medical checkups. It is also important that one manages diabetes once such a diagnosis is confirmed: prescription medication must be regularly taken, and dietary and lifestyle changes are an imperative. Attention must also be paid to foot care, in an effort to reduce the likelihood of nerve damage and amputations.
On behalf of the Federal Ministries of Health I do wish the St. Kitts Diabetes Association every success with the staging of “Diabetes Awareness Week 2019” and the observance of World Diabetes Day. I now take pleasure in declaring the week of activities officially open.
Thank you for listening & May God bless us all.
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