Delivered by Minister of State with Responsibility for Health, Social Services, Gender Affairs & Community Development Hon Wendy Colleen Phipps
Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis: Today, November 14, 2018, our Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis joins the rest of the global community to celebrate World Diabetes Day under the theme “The Family and Diabetes”. Held on November 14th of each year,
World Diabetes Day is observed as a major occasion for all countries to shine the spotlight on the significant and ongoing impact that diabetes has had on the health of so many of our global citizens – without regard for colour, creed, age, gender, nationality or socio-economic status. The observance of this day is also meant to highlight the challenges and perils which diabetes pose to countless individuals, their families, the health sector, governments and civil society organisations (CSOs). All of these stakeholders are compelled to cope with and respond to this dreaded and silent disorder.
It is customary in St. Kitts and Nevis for our national awareness activities for World Diabetes Day to be spread over the course of one week, dubbed Diabetes Awareness Week. This is certainly not accidental, given the fact that our Nation – like countless other United Nations (UN) Member States – has been considerably affected by Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), of which diabetes is a major factor. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) some 63% of global deaths are attributed to NCDs, which also include hypertension, respiratory and cardio-vascular disease, and cancer. The NCD predicament of our Federation is even more acute than this, as NCDs represent our leading cause of death and disability.
In fact, NCDs constitute some 83% of all deaths in our Federation. This is an alarming statistic and reflects a trend which we must reverse with urgency.
It is necessary that we bring sufficient clarity on our national NCD trend by indicating that some 1313 diabetics are registered at our 17 health centres.
Of this figure, some 934 are females while 379 are males. Moreover, the data illustrates that there are 603 female diabetics in St. Kitts and 230 males. The gender disparity on our sister island of Nevis is no different: there, a total of 331 diabetics are female while 149 of them are males. In essence, the full data set paints a clear picture that far more women are living with diabetes than men, since 71.1% of registered diabetics in the Federation are women.
As I have done every year on World Diabetes Day since our Unity Administration took office in February 2015, I will now take some time to explain, as simply as I can, 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 that is required to process the sugar we consume in our diets. In a healthy person, the organ called the pancreas would produce insulin that is needed by the body to transport glucose (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 kidney failure.
Both the WHO and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) would have selected the theme “The Family and Diabetes” for this year’s focus on World Diabetes Day. By choosing this theme the WHO and the IDF are building on the thrust of the 2017 diabetes campaign which paid attention to the impact of diabetes on women – given that over 200 million females in the world are living with the condition. By widening the scope of attention in 2018 to include how diabetes affects families, the WHO and the IDF are, in fact, continuing the conversation to make the point that when an individual suffers from diabetes there is far more than one victim.
Diabetes, in fact, has an impact on the entire family. In our case, where over 50% of our households are headed by single females, it stands to reason that the impact of diabetes on entire families is considerable.
In extreme cases, diabetes can be responsible for the worsening of the socio-economic condition of families, especially if the main bread winner has uncontrolled diabetes that results in lower limb amputation, disability, job loss, and reduced household income. In such challenging situations, an unfortunate domino effect can result, including but not limited to: (i) the attraction to gang and/or criminal culture – as is the case with some our young boys; (ii) the prostitution of some teenage girls who somehow feel obligated to sell themselves so their families can eat and pay household bills; and (iii) another adult family member being forced to give up their job in order to render full-time care to the family member with diabetes. In the case of the latter, it is a female family member who is most likely to be the one having to give up her job in order to care for another family member who suffers from diabetes.
Diabetes’ impact on families is felt in a number of other ways beside those just mentioned. In fact, adjusting to a family member’s diabetes often calls for a major shift in terms of food purchasing and preparation patterns, including the removal of or reduction of sugar from the diet. It would also be necessary to make healthy swaps to those foods with lower glycemic load, which refers to those foods less likely to significantly increase blood glucose levels.
Care must be taken when buying sugar-free foods, however: many manufacturers compensate for the absence of sugars from recipes by adding more salt – which is never a good alternative.
A full assessment of diabetes’ impact on families will also reveal several other ways in which these families are affected. They include:
1. Emotional Impact – due to the anxiety which family members would have over the person who is diabetic;
2. Physical Impact – due to the fatigue, burn-out and stress experienced by families;
3. Mental Impact – due to the strain, depression, anger and even guilt that can be experienced by families as a result of a family member’s diabetes diagnosis and the burden of coping with the condition.
4. Financial Impact – due to the financial outlay that can result when costly medical attention is needed in those cases of uncontrolled diabetes, such as the cost of (i) prosthetic limbs following amputation; and (ii) regular haemodialysis treatment in the event of kidney failure.
In an effort to highlight the major impact created by diabetes in our Federation, the St. Kitts Diabetes Association has planned the 2018 Diabetes Awareness Week around Word Diabetes Day. As such, Diabetes Awareness Week runs from November 11-18, 2018. The week of activities is also meant to emphasize the message to our citizens and residents that we should all individually, collectively and consistently practice having a healthy diet and a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, weight management, annual medical check-ups, and a positive mindset.
These habits will ensure that we Discover, Prevent and Manage Diabetes.
The activities for Diabetes Awareness Week also call on our people to be ever vigilant of the many serious challenges and dangers associated with diabetes, and to do everything possible to prevent its onset. Diabetes Awareness Week’s programming also calls on diabetics, their families and other caregivers to manage the condition through active blood glucose monitoring, taking prescribed medication as directed, and ongoing education of our health professionals.
Of course, management of diabetes also calls for easy access to affordable and effective medication, a key responsibility to which our Government is fully committed, as diabetes medication continues to be available for free at all government pharmacies, for persons under age 16 and over age 62.
Among the major events planned for the 2018 observance of Diabetes Awareness Week are the following:
Sunday, November 11th – Church Service which was held at St. George’s Anglican Church in Basseterre;
Monday, November 12th – Secondary School Talks & Round Table panel discussion hosted by ZIZ;
Wednesday, November 14th – World Diabetes Day – when the public is encouraged to wear something Blue in solidarity with those persons dealing with diabetes;
Thursday, November 15th – Diabetes Screening Day at Tyrell Williams Primary School in Old Road;
Friday, November 16th – Public Screening Day at Independence Square, starting at 8:30 am;
Saturday, November 17th – Walk for Diabetes, starting at 5:30 am from the War Memorial in Basseterre; and
Sunday, November 18th – Annual General Meeting of the St. Kitts Diabetes Association, Old Girls’ School in Basseterre, starting at 3:00 pm.
The Ministry of Health congratulates the St. Kitts Diabetes Association for the ongoing, invaluable partnership role its members continue to play in educating and promoting the imperatives of health and wellness among our people. This joint approach is critical in confronting the disease head-on with a view to reducing its incidence in our population, and limiting the negative impact upon individual diabetics, their families, their livelihoods and their quality of life.
The Ministry of Health would like to use this platform to publicly thank the leadership of the St. Kitts Diabetes Association for their ongoing efforts at health education and health screenings, and the advocacy of behaviour change with regards to diabetes in our Federation. On this score, the Ministry thanks the members of the Executive for their yeoman service.
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 rest of the Association’s membership for their ongoing support and partnership in helping our people to live healthy lives, to realise that diabetes is not a death sentence, and to do all in our power the prevent the onset of diabetes wherever possible.
The Ministry of Health encourages the public to actively support the planned activities in observance of World Diabetes Day and Diabetes Awareness Week 2018. As we support these events and activities, let us
remember those families affected – and in crisis – as result of diabetes. Again, the Ministry calls on all of us as citizens and residents of the Federation to Discover our status regarding diabetes by getting regular
medical checkups. We are also called upon to Prevent diabetes wherever possible.
We are also expected to Manage diabetes when such is diagnosed, since it is quite possible to live healthy and productive lives after a diabetes diagnosis. Diabetes is not a death sentence. It calls for a lifestyle change to improve the quality of life for the individuals and their families.
On behalf of the Federal Ministries of Health I do wish us all a positive and productive World Diabetes Day observance. I sincerely thank the organisers of all our national activities every success in their endeavours, and encourage the public to support these efforts.
May God bless us all with good health and wellness.