Diabetes, the preventable disease

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday February 23rd, 2016

 THE deaths of two prominent men this year from diabetes related illness should serve as a wakeup call for many of Papua New Guinea’s working middle class. 

South Bougainville MP and Bougainville Affairs Minister Steven Kama and former radio and TV personality Mark Sapias succumbed to the disease that is becoming one of the leading causes of death, as far as non-communicable diseases go, in this country.

Both men were in their 50s and had many more years ahead of them were it not for the disease which struck them down in the midst of their prime.

According to the Australian Doctors International, a website dedicated to health issues in the Pacific and developing countries in the region, PNG ranks among the worst performers in terms of primary healthcare for the general population.

Thus the leading causes of death are in part the result of the health sector’s inability to cater for a large population and the attendant problems cause by a lack of medical professionals providing healthcare for the majority of the country’s seven million plus population.

But diabetes, which is described as a lifestyle disease, could continue to take lives of middle aged professionals if attitudes do not change.

Diabetes is classed as a non-communicable disease and is therefore avoidable however the modern lifestyle experienced in all major urban centres has contributed to the rise in cases of the disease as well as those caused by the consumption of tobacco products, alcohol and processed food and beverages.

Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly referred to as diabetes, is a group of metabolic diseases in which there are high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. 

Symptoms of high blood sugar include frequent urination, increased thirst, and increased hunger.

If left untreated, diabetes can cause many complications. Acute complications in the sufferer can result in a coma. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic kidney failure, foot ulcers, and damage to the eyes.

This is no laughing matter nor is it something average Papua New Guineans can continue to ignore.

Diabetes is due to either the pancreas not producing enough insulin or the cells of the body not responding properly to the insulin produced. 

There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes results from the pancreas’s failure to produce enough insulin. This form was previously referred to as “insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus” (IDDM); Type 2 begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin properly. As the disease progresses a lack of insulin may also develop. This form is referred to as “adult-onset diabetes”. 

The primary cause is excessive body weight and not enough exercise; the third and less frequent form is Gestational diabetes, and occurs when pregnant women without a previous history of diabetes develop high blood-sugar levels.

Prevention and treatment involve a healthy diet, physical exercise, maintaining a normal body weight, and avoiding use of tobacco. 

As of 2014, an estimated 387 million people had diabetes worldwide, with type 2 making up about 90 per cent of the cases. 

This represents 8.3 per cent of the adult population, with equal rates in both women and men.  

From 2012 to 2014, diabetes is estimated to have resulted in 1.5 to 4.9 million deaths each year. 

The sad reality is that a good portion of the men and women, who work in a wide range of professions and with valuable skill sets needed by this country are in danger of developing lifestyle diseases and passing on too soon.

The economic impact of medical care for these people will also have a bearing on the health system both public and private.

In the end it all comes down to the choices we make on a daily basis; on what we put into our bodies and what chemicals and toxins we expose ourselves to. 

A largely sedentary lifestyle certainly does not help as well. 

The consumption of sugar-laden products, foods that are high in cholesterol and those that have been processed to the point of having only a fraction of the nutrients left is a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, many educated Papua New Guineans who should know better, continue down that path without realising or wanting to know that their actions will have a bearing on their health in the long run.