Killer disease runs after more victims

Diabetes is a dreaded disease worldwide.

One in five people in Fiji suffer from diabetes and it is rising rapidly.

Diabetes is a lifestyle disease, with strong genetic links but others are also exposed to it, depending on a number of factors. Modern living, with diminishing physical activity, provides ideal conditions for its proliferation.

Diabetes is a complex illness that results in a high level of glucose in the blood, diminishing levels of insulin circulating in the body. In many cases, by the time symptoms intensify in a patient, diabetes would be in an advanced stage. It is possible that a person will have been diabetic for ten or more years, without experiencing symptoms. In this period, its detrimental effects accentuate through ignorance and bodily organs become susceptible to deleterious effects. The early symptoms are thirst, increased desire to eat, urinary frequency and weight loss. In Fiji, diabetes was common among Indo-Fijians but there has been a dramatic rise among indigenous Fijians. At a recent Health Symposium, it was revealed that one amputation was performed on diabetics every 12.6 hours in Fiji and that and one in six patients dies after amputation. Increasing incidence Dr Josese Turagava, a surgeon at the Colonial War Memorial (CWM) Hospital in Suva, said that 693 amputations were carried out in 2010 and one operating theatre was being used all days of the week to handle the patient load. According to another report, 40% of people over the age of 40 in Fiji have diabetes.

The Diabetes Eye Clinic at CWC was inundated with patients, seeking laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy and that the facility was inadequate to meet the growing demand. Diabetic Retinopathy is a condition in which blood vessels in the retina are damaged, causing vision loss and even blindness. Early detection can prevent severe vision loss but patients must be screened and treated appropriately. According to the World Diabetes Foundation, about 285 million people around the world suffered from diabetes in 2010 (6.4% of the population). It said the number is expected to grow to 438 million by 2030. Some other reports say that about four million people die of the disease every year. People with genetic links are naturally disadvantaged but in a way, they also have the advantage to be cautious and to take preemptive action against diabetes by making lifestyle choices that keep the dreaded disease away. On eating, health authorities recommend a good breakfast, a hefty lunch and a small dinner. They strongly recommend regular exercise, reducing intake of sweets and sweet drinks and increasing fresh foods and vegetables. Deadly sugar Fiji has a rich supply of inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables.

Intake of processed sugar is one of the greatest problems in Fiji. In the sugarcane districts, the farming families generally take lot of sugar, unaware of its health implications. Their mindset needs change. There is nothing wrong with sugarcane farming but sugar intake should be controlled. The sweetness of sugar, taken in excess, is toxic. It is important to know that sugar alone is not the cause of diabetes. There are other foods that are high in carbohydrates causing rise in sugar levels in the blood. Intake of such food should be reduced and regular exercise and an active lifestyle help control diabetes. Our forebears did not have the luxury of television and Internet and hence spent most of their time working on the farms. The calories they consumed produced the energy needed for rigorous Labour. Today’s sedentary lifestyle is a globally ticking time bomb. We can ignore it only at our own peril. Diabetes control is an individual choice and knowing and doing things with commitment and discipline can alleviate a lot of pain and suffering. Prevention is the most appropriate response for diabetes as there is no cure for it. People suffering from diabetics know its debilitating effects and most of them wish that they had taken heed before its onset. The sweetness of sugar can sour our lives and denying its taste to the tongue can give us a healthy body and long life. Rajendra Prasad is a thinker and writer on many subjects. Email: raj.prasad@xtra.co.nz

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