Although diabetes prevalence seems to be on the decline within the 20-79 age group, the figure may not be accurate as there are still a lot of people who may not have been testing for the non-communicable disease. A recent report by the World Bank Group showed a drop from 14.1 per cent in 2000 to 12.7 per cent in 2021 of people living with diabetes within that age group in Trinidad and Tobago. Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high.
The Diabetes Association of TT (DATT) recently launched its Youth Advocacy Branch, chaired by 19-year-old David Gobin.
Gobin, an aspiring doctor, applied to the youth internship programme as a way of furthering his career in the medical field.
He told Newsday, “Firstly, I love volunteerism. Just the fact that I’m able to offer my services, especially to vulnerable groups in our country without expecting much in return brings great satisfaction to me. Secondly, being part of an non-profit organisation was on my list of goals to accomplish since I finished secondary school.”
He said he learned to test glucose and pressure levels in blood and how to effectively conduct research.
“These skills would come in handy as it would prepare me for the start of my medical school journey and even my future career as an established medical practitioner. Additionally, I would be able to become a certified volunteer, doing regular testing for anyone who may be interested.”
Gobin said no one in his immediate family has been diagnosed with diabetes, but learning these skills were in keeping with his “knowledge is power” stance, and as a way of being able to make informed decisions. He said knowing the importance of screening for diabetes can assist in combating the incidence rate of the disease.
“In terms of importance to myself, I’ve realised that my health is my greatest wealth. I would also like to impart my knowledge and expertise onto the other members in the youth branch and the nation’s youths by extension, seeing that we are the future of TT,” Gobin said.
He said during the internship, the youth branch was responsible for doing blood glucose and blood pressure tests on other interns at DATT’s head office in Chaguanas, and blood-type tests at the a biology lab at the UWI, St Augustine campus with the help a medical lab technician.
“We did have a two-day camp in late August for children with type one diabetes, which is diagnosed very early on in someone’s life. There were a decent number of kids living with type one diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition whereby the body attacks itself and the person isn’t able to produce insulin. So these children would have to be injected with insulin and check their blood glucose levels very frequently. Type two, on the other hand, is more prevalent in adults, not necessarily in younger people, but it can occur depending on the severity.”
Oceana Mohan, vice chairman of the youth branch, is an upper six student at Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College. She said, like Gobin, she joined the programme as a means of helping her pursue a medical career.
“I figured that this internship would provide me with exposure in the medical field. But I was also inclined to join since I have close family members who have been living with diabetes for as long as I knew them. I was persuaded to join the association to learn more about diabetes in an attempt to assist those in my family, and by extension, those in my community living with this disease.”
The 18-year-old said the entire programme was a “blessing in disguise” since she was exposed to more than she thought she would have been, learning about marketing, fundraising, administration and research. She added she also witnessed a surgery, visited health clinics around the country, and performed blood sugar and pressure testing on others.
“However, the most profound lesson I learnt throughout the entire experience was the importance of service to others. I realised that through volunteerism and the simple act of selflessness, I can make a difference in my community, whether it be big or small,” Mohan said.
Another youth advocate, Gerald Charles, said he became a member as a tribute to his mother who recently died from diabetes. He said he was impressed by his willingness and ability to reach out to other young people who were in a similar situation.
“Earlier this month I lost my mother, and she had suffered with complications due to diabetes for the most half of 17 years. I joined a volunteer programme with DATT to learn more about my mother’s ailment and to be able to better assist her. I also joined since both sides of my family have a high population of type two diabetes, placing me at high risk. I would like to help other youths so they do not get diagnosed with diabetes,” Charles said.
The 18-year-old said he also volunteered at the St Clair Medical Centre, the Eye Clinic at Maska Ltd, San Fernando and DATT’s type one diabetes camp as a way of educating as many people as possible of the disease.
“The camp was actually quite calm with a great turnout. The most memorable moments for me was showcasing the science experiments the volunteers prepared and eating the carbonated fruits. We showed colour changes and made bath bombs and the kids loved it. We used dry ice to make fizzy fruits which encouraged a majority of kids to eat them as they were the equivalent of healthy soft drinks. The zumba class on the last day to let the kids release excess energy was also a joy to partake in,” Charles said.
He said since his mother’s death, he wants to ensure people get the help they need to mitigate the effects of diabetes. As an upper six student of St Benedict’s College, La Romaine, Charles will be teaching what he learned to his classmates in lower forms in the school.
“I learnt how to take various types of blood tests, to read nutritional facts on snacks and juices and the ability to help make a diet to suit a person based on their current lifestyle. It would be of aid to better myself as I am currently in a process to change my eating habits.”