November 14 is the day dedicated to raising more diabetes awareness – World Diabetes Day. It was created in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organisation in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat posed by diabetes. World Diabetes Day became an official United Nations Day in 2006 with the passage of United Nations Resolution 61/225. It is specifically marked on November 14 as it coincides with the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922.

World Diabetes Day is the world’s largest diabetes awareness campaign reaching a global audience of over one billion people in more than 160 countries.

The campaign draws attention to issues of paramount importance to the diabetes world and keeps diabetes firmly in the public and political spotlight.

The campaign is represented by a blue circle logo that was adopted in 2007 after the passage of the UN resolution on diabetes. The blue circle is the global symbol for diabetes awareness. It signifies the unity of the global diabetes community in response to the diabetes epidemic.

Every year, the World Diabetes Day campaign focuses on a dedicated theme that runs for one or more years. The theme for World Diabetes Day 2018-19 is ‘Family and Diabetes’.

The primary aim of the theme is to raise awareness of the impact that diabetes has on the family and to promote the role of the family in the management, care, prevention and education of the condition. This revolves around three focus areas: the discovery, prevention and management of diabetes.

Diabetes is a long-term chronic condition often referred to as the “silent killer”.

The IDF Diabetes Atlas – eighth edition reports that 425 million people around the globe lived with diabetes in 2017. This is set to increase to 629 million by 2045. In Europe the situation is also concerning – 2017 saw 66 million people living with diabetes, a figure that is set to rise to 81 million by 2045. Unfortunately, diabetes caused around 694,000 deaths in Europe alone.

Malta is no exception with an estimated prevalence of 13.2 per cent of persons aged 20-79 years living with diabetes.

By using a continuous glucose monitor, persons living with diabetes will automatically receive glucose readings every five minutes

Many cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. There are little things than can make a difference and could help a family reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes:

• When a family eats healthy meals and exercises together, all family members benefit and encourage behaviours that could help prevent type 2 diabetes in the family;

• If you have diabetes in your family, it is important that all family members learn about the risks, the warning signs to look out for and what they can do to prevent diabetes and its complications;

• Families need to live in an environment that supports healthy lifestyles and helps them to prevent type 2 diabetes.

It is also important that all the family supports the person living with diabetes and shows empathy. Diabetes should involve all the family. A person with diabetes manages their diabetes with daily treatment, regular monitoring, a healthy lifestyle and ongoing education. Family support is therefore key.

All health professionals play an important role and should have the knowledge and skills to help individuals and families manage diabetes. Education and ongoing support should be accessible to all individuals and families to help manage diabetes.

Essential diabetes medicines and care must be accessible and affordable for every family. On this point, the issue of introducing continuous blood glucose monitoring devices in Malta is of paramount importance. These devices are an advanced and innovative way for people living with diabetes to check glucose readings in real-time or monitor glucose readings over a period of time.

By using a continuous glucose monitor, persons living with diabetes will automatically receive glucose readings every five minutes or so, allowing them to fingerstick less often.

At the moment, such devices are not reimbursed by the health authorities resulting in persons living with diabetes and/or parents of children with type 1 diabetes being constrained to purchase such devices at a hefty expense. I appeal to the Minister for Health to seriously consider introducing such devices as part of the diabetes formulatory.

The national strategy for diabetes launched by this government in 2016 was a step in the right direction. Malta now has a plan on how to tackle diabetes in the medium to long-term. As an association, we wish to see the government embark on national screening programmes for persons at risk of getting diabetes or in view of a family history with this condition.

Such programmes should mirror the success of similar programmes adopted for colon and breast cancers.

The initiatives taken so far by this government are very positive and encouraging. Diabetes now has a prominent place in the national health agenda. As a nation and the Maltese family in the wider context, we should take an active role in the fight against this condition.

Diabetes concerns every family – one member from every family probably has diabetes. So, let us support this condition, especially today on World Diabetes Day and start by creating more awareness to prevent diabetes.

Chris Delicata is president of the Maltese Diabetes Association.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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