Experts said yesterday they were seeing an “exponential increase” in diabetes in Malta and attributed it to bad diet and lack of exercise.
“Malta has more than its fair share of diabetes,” said Stephen Fava, a consultant diabetologist and head of the Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, on the occasion of World Diabetes Day.
According to the European Health Interview Survey, over nine per cent of the Maltese population knew they had diabetes and six per cent were being treated medically for it, Health Minister Joe Cassar said. However, he believes the numbers are far higher in reality.
Dr Cassar emphasised the importance of lifestyle changes in both the prevention and treatment of the condition. “We all say we have no time to exercise but it is really just an excuse,” Dr Cassar said, giving his own experience as an example.
Consultant diabetologist Mario Cachia said the problem with diabetes was that it was a silent killer. “The killer is mainly the heart disease but everything that happens pushes the risk of heart disease further,” he said. High blood sugar, for example, increased the risk of hypertension, which further increased the risk of heart disease. He pointed to an anomaly in Malta and other countries where a lot of emphasis was placed on heart disease without the diabetes element being tackled. He said that, at any one time, at least half the patients in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit were diabetic.
“If you tackle the diabetes before it even starts, it would cut down problems of heart disease like heart attacks,” he said.
Over the weekend, health centres and clinics will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for people to check themselves for diabetes and take a risk assessment. The Malta Medical Students Association will also be offering this service from Baystreet in Paceville today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This year, the Malta Diabetes Association held its first summer camp overseas. A group of children and teens travelled to Italy accompanied by dedicated volunteers to discover how better to deal with the condition.
“They did things they never thought they could do. They climbed a mountain, even dealing with episodes of low blood sugar on the way up,” said the senior nursing officer at the Diabetes and Endocrine Clinic, Moira Grixti, who accompanied the group.
For children, it was not easy when they were first diagnosed, she continued. “I don’t think they realise what it implies when you explain to them they will keep receiving injections not only while they’re in hospital but even when they go home.”
When they realised it was something ongoing it could be very difficult for their parents at home, she pointed out. This is where the association came in as it brought them together with other children who understood them.
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