Her Excellency Mrs Reema Carmona
Address at the Opening of The Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago
15th Annual Residential Camp For Children With Diabetes – July 10, 2016
As Patron of the Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago it is my esteemed pleasure to officially open today (10th July, 2016) the 15th Annual Residential Children’s Camp for Children with Diabetes. This yearly initiative is both timely and critical as Trinidad and Tobago is ranked among the countries with the highest prevalence of diabetes both regionally and internationally. This Residential Camp for Children with Diabetes provides us with the opportunity to focus on the issues, specifically, preventative mechanisms surrounding diabetes and ensure that our benchmark standards of treatment, prevention and control are in keeping with the international best practices. Our Diabetes Association has its work cut out, as diabetes, since 2012, has assumed pandemic status in developing countries like ours, and is the second leading cause of death in Trinidad and Tobago. The White Paper prepared and launched by the Diabetes Outreach Programme of Trinidad and Tobago Health Sciences Initiative (TTHSI) reveals startling information. We now know that diabetes affects an estimated 150,000 people in T&T and the numbers are growing with 1000 new cases every year. What is frightening and the White Paper states and I quote, “For heart disease, a leading cause of mortality in the country approximately 65% is attributable to pre-existing diabetes.” When we add to this scenario that diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness in this country it tells us the human crisis we are in as it relates to our personal health.
This pandemic manifestation and diagnosis magnification, presents a grave challenge to public health services and communities, and requires our continuing aggressive attention.
A Residential camp for children with diabetes is beneficial to everyone. The diabetic child gains self-confidence and a sense of independence from the daily caregivers including Mom and Dad. Such a camp is holistic where children with diabetes bond so there is a sense of unity, camaraderie and support in the fight against diabetes. It tells them, you are not alone. The Residential Camp affords children with diabetes the time of their lives and their parents can break away from the monotony of their daily routine. The Residential Camp teaches children to live with diabetes impressing upon them that they can have a normal life through personal management and through a proper diet based lifestyle. Residential Camps can give a sense of happy normalcy to a child suffering from self-esteem issues brought on by his/her diabetic condition. It relieves the frustration that comes with it. A Residential Diabetes Camp can assist in creating and augmenting diabetes management skill and help diminish diabetes related stress in children.
Speaking at the White Paper Launch titled “The State of Individuals with Diabetes and their Healthcare in the South-West Region of Trinidad and Tobago” Dr Claude Khan, President of the Academy of Diabetes Clinicians of Trinidad &Tobago painted a not so flattering picture of our international health matrix. Our diabetes numbers are triple those in the United Kingdom and double those in the United States per capita. We are ranked 19th in the world and some 13 percent of our population are being diagnosed as diabetic. Metaphorically, the horse has bolted. It is no longer about monitoring and control but rather prevention, and prevention begins in a place called home, specifically our kitchens. Mothers must prepare healthy meals for their families and must be very peculiar from a health perspective what is placed in their children’s lunch kits. A parent’s convenience must not dictate what is in that lunch kit. Parents will complain about the price of eating healthy but ironically they are prepared to pay handsomely for ailments that they can prevent.
Additionally, schools must play a part in arresting this health malaise. What we can consider, is encouraging the requisite authorities to institutionalise compulsory periods of study once every two weeks in all schools dealing exclusively with healthy cuisine, diets and drinks. The child advocate can become the game changer. Through such institutionalised compulsive periods of health education, the child becomes an advocate at school and in the home. The child advocate then becomes a watchdog ensuring that proper eating habits are adhered to at all times. This is how we will begin to change the sometimes unhealthy cuisine culture in Trinidad and Tobago, by influencing in the right way the youthful minds and making them advocates of just causes. In the same way, the child in the road traffic commercial, warns his mother against speeding and its potential impact, the child advocate in the home and in the school would be equipped with knowledge to warn his/her mother, father, sibling or classmate against improper eating habits that can lead to health issues. This is how you create a dynamo of change and initiate a new progressive health culture. Children must be encouraged to do personal research on diabetes and NCDs because an informed child can begin the health revolution at their schools, in their homes and in their communities.
Diabetes is no respecter of persons like all Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Resulting from the body’s ineffective use of insulin, which is largely associated with being overweight, having an increased calorie intake and physical inactivity, factors such as well-planned meals and daily exercise can assist in keeping diabetes under control and maintaining a normal healthy life. To stimulate a reduction in our diabetes statistics, we must be vigilant on all fronts. Public policies, free access to health information, guides to healthy lifestyles and changed behaviours from an individual standpoint, are a few recommendations proffered.
We need to focus on changing our lifestyles as a Nation. Currently, advocacy to combat and control Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) including diabetes have a sometimes singular and limited scope. We are often caught up in a catch-up phase when it comes to our health care. Advisories for regulating of blood sugar levels, control of raised blood pressure, foot care, and eye care are displayed in hospitals and clinics as cost-saving interventions which can significantly decrease the progress of the disease and its complications. However, the focus on changing our lifestyles as a Nation must be the imperative. As I stated previously, women must be part of that vanguard. It is critical to note that women are advised to keep low blood sugar levels both before and during pregnancy in order to ensure a healthy and safe delivery and to prevent diabetes in both mother and child. Further, we need to start making the healthier choice for our children and this includes what we put in their lunch kits and what activities they engage in during the day. If we are not doing it before, the time to start is now.
On a larger scale, benchmarked examples of the changes in lifestyles to which I refer, are actualised in countries that have imposed tariffs on food and drink considered unhealthy. In 2011, Denmark imposed a ‘fat tax’ with the intention of reducing NCDs. The legislation specifically targeted saturated fats — the fats found most commonly in animal products like butter, cream, and meat. In the United Kingdom, a new sugar tax on the soft drinks industry will be introduced for the 2016 / 2017 fiscal budget as the UK is of the view that these drinks have no nutritional benefit and contribute significantly to burgeoning health issues. In Australia, the Green Party is proposing a 20 per cent sugar tax on sweetened drinks to cut consumption of these drinks by 12 per cent and reduce national obesity rates by one per cent. We as a Nation must look at these legislative measures as standards to aspire to. The inevitable question, do we try to influence the manufacturing world to do the right thing. Interestingly enough, the metropole countries tried that holistic approach and it has not worked and felt the need to legislate against adverse manufacturing philosophies impacting on positive health.
We must therefore engage in a more conscientious and concerted advocacy for the development of national programmes and policies to fight diabetes and other public health problems and NCDs. This residential camp for children with diabetes which focuses on children and their health is an inspirational step in the right direction. It will inculcate in the minds of our children the benefits of making wise decisions regarding meals and exercise.
Our advocacy must be relentless in prevention rather than control. Think about it carefully. If we eat right, exercise regularly and promote healthier lifestyles, then there will be more hospital beds available, less money spent by the government on medication, less money spent on diagnosis and treatment and a population with an increased life expectancy statistic. It’s that simple.
I sincerely hope that this year’s Residential Camp for children with diabetes will pave the way for a more resolute and active response to the health needs of both children and adults affected with diabetes for a future of healthier, happier generations.
I thank you.