WORLD HEALTH Day was observed on Sunday. Mindful of the prevalence of lifestyle diseases, the Ministry of Health embarked on a campaign to encourage exercise and healthy eating. And NGOs like the Diabetes Association and the San Fernando Lions Club threw a spotlight on diabetes, in particular juvenile diabetes. These NGOs should be praised for their advocacy and for highlighting gaps in the way the State treats children with type 1 diabetes.
The Ministry of Health has done a lot to focus attention on chronic non-communicable diseases which account for 60 per cent of deaths annually. The diabetes prevalence rate is about 12 per cent to 13 per cent, according to the ministry, more than half the population is overweight, and a quarter of school-aged children are obese.
Because about 40 per cent of the population does not get sufficient physical exercise weekly and 91 per cent eat less than the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetable daily, the State has had to focus on the broad strokes.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry, in print advertisements, urged the population to get moving, drink more plain water, and eat fruit and vegetables. With the battle more or less already lost on these basic fronts, this type of awareness campaign is invaluable if we are to turn around attitudes.
Equally important, however, are events such as Sunday’s one-day camp, which focused on the very specific matter of children with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is distinct from type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is more of an auto-immune problem in which the body attacks one of its own organs, the pancreas, destroying the production of insulin and necessitating the administering of insulin injections. It’s a condition that affects mainly children and its causes are unknown. The risk factors are different from those for type 2 diabetes.
Because the State’s focus is sometimes broad, there is a gap when it comes to promoting awareness of lesser-known conditions like this one. While type 1 diabetes is not as prevalent as type 2, it still affects a significant number of youths. Some estimates suggest there are about 150 to 200 children with type 1 diabetes in the country. But according to Andrew Dhanoo, president of the Diabetes Association, the figure could be higher.
“We think there are about 400 to 500 children in Trinidad with type 1 diabetes,” he told the media on Sunday. “And we are trying to find them. We need to know what schools they are going to because the problem is a lot of teachers in schools don’t know how to deal with children with diabetes.”
It’s hard for the State, which must focus on the bigger numbers, to reach the sweet spot when it comes to lesser-known diseases. That’s why things like Sunday’s event are so invaluable.