Dealing with diabetes

Health Watch, Normal


NOVEMBER 14 is World Diabetes Day.
So, what? You may ask. Well, everyone needs to know much more about diabetes.
It is a hidden epidemic common all over the country, threatening the lives and futures of hundreds of thousands of Papua New Guineans – far more than HIV/AIDS, which, as we all know, is a huge problem right now.
How many people have diabetes in PNG?
A national study conducted recently by HOPE Worldwide (PNG) that was funded by the World Health Organisation showed that 14% of adults in PNG had a high blood glucose level. Typically half the people in such a group will have diabetes. That is a 7% of all adults, or potentially, 276,000 Papua New Guineans! Most do not know they have diabetes and so various parts of their body are being damaged more and more everyday. Only about 3,000 people are getting treated regularly for their diabetic conditions. Children can also develop diabetes and, in PNG, are at a higher risk of not being properly diagnosed or treated.
What is diabetes?
It is a problem with the body handling sugar. When we eat food, the body converts it into sugar and this is used by our muscles and other body parts of energy. The body moves this sugar into the cells automatically through the actions of a hormone called insulin, which is made in the pancreas (in the abdomen). In diabetes, the body either does not make enough insulin, or the insulin does not work properly, sometimes both these things happen. Glucose builds up in the blood making the person thirsty, they pass a lot of urine, feel weak and can lose weight. But often people have no symptoms at all yet they still have diabetes.
What happens if diabetes
is not treated?
Over time, the high glucose level in the blood often leads severe complications such as:
*Eye damage which can lead to blindness;
*Kidney damage which may be fatal;
*Damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the feet which can lead to ulcers, gangrene and amputation;
*A heightened risk of sudden death from heart attack or stroke; and
*In pregnancy, it can also endanger the mother and the baby.
Can diabetes be prevented?
It often can if people avoid getting overweight or lose weight and exercise regularly. Eat local foods rather than fast or fried foods, play sport or walk regularly, don’t smoke at all, don’t drink heavily – all these help prevent diabetes and high blood pressure.
How can I get diagnosed
and treated?
If you are over 30, you should have your blood sugar level checked by a doctor (and ask them to check your blood pressure too while you are there). The first treatment for diabetes is diet and exercise, if glucose levels are still high, then, tablets are used and, later, some patients require insulin injections every day.

*Dr Ogle is a paediatrician working for HOPE Worldwide (Australia) and programme manager of the International Diabetes Foundation “life for a child” programme.