Monday, November 24, 2014

National Diabetes Month

Part of diabetes education in Haiti
November is National Diabetes Month. A disease blind to cultures and country borders, diabetes has an unfortunately wide grip, affecting one in every 12 people across the globe. More than 10% of Guatemala’s population and nearly 7% of Haiti’s has diabetes.

In short, diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough or respond properly to insulin, which results in high blood glucose (blood sugar). Untreated, diabetes can cause complications and increase patients’ risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and other serious ailments. Diet and exercise are an important part of diabetes management.

Given the prevalence of diabetes, its potential long-term consequences, and the lack of access to quality medical care in the communities where we work, we see diabetes education and treatment as a critical component of our medical programs. Field directors Sandra Sonley (Haiti) and Abby Sawyer (Guatemala) weigh in on what PID is doing about diabetes:

“PID's diabetes program in Haiti has over 200 patients who come for weekly or monthly appointments depending on their situation. Samuel SaintVil meets with each person individually, taking their blood sugar and talking to them about their eating habits and medication consistency for the preceding week. Patients with dangerously high or low blood sugars are sent to meet with the doctor regarding their medication levels before they head home. As with American diabetics, nutrition is crucial. A volunteer team of nursing students teaches educational classes when people come to meet with Samuel. They have also made large canvases with facts about sugar content in common Haitian foods. The Haitian diet is very heavy in starches and therefore sugars, so the images promote things like vegetables, which have low sugar and high nutritional value.”

“We have 20 patients in our Guatemala diabetes program that come each month for a blood sugar check and receive their medication. There are probably about 10 more patients that come each month just for a blood sugar check, but they aren't officially in our program and don't receive medication. There is a lack of education in general about diabetes; many people take their medication for a month, start to feel better and then stop taking the medication. They don't have an understanding of the disease and how their lifestyle affects it. Here at PID, we do a lot of teaching and education about the disease. We try to do a lifestyle change, including diet and exercise, before medication. A big struggle for people is complying with the change in diet. We tell them to eat fewer tortillas (that's hard when tortillas are such a staple!), put less sugar in their coffee, eat less junk food and drink less soda, and do simple exercises like walking, simple weights with full water bottles or cans of beans. Even if they are taking the medication as prescribed, eating well and exercising are very important.”

You can help PID fight diabetes by supporting our medical programs in Haiti and Guatemala.

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