Gloomy Barbados diabetes picture

Dr. Diane Brathwaite.
Photo by George Alleyne

As Barbadians observed World Diabetes Day this week they had to come to grips with the fact that their rate of affliction by this disease is double the world average.

The island’s alarming statistics show that one in every five persons has diabetes, and what is worse is that the rate at which people contract diabetes in Barbados has been on an upward trend over the years with no end in sight.

“Our prevalence rate of diabetes is increasing as our rates of obesity,” said Clinical Director of the Barbados Diabetes Foundation, Dr. Diane Brathwaite, as she pointed to a 2015 study showing that 19 percent of persons on the island aged 25 and older have diabetes.

The ratio gets worse when those over 65 years old are examined separately because the affliction percentage in that age grouping is 46 percent, meaning almost half of the nation’s elderly population has diabetes.

But stemming from a Barbados Health of the Nation study in 2015 the figures on the island’s extreme diabetes rate could be considered somewhat dated bearing in mind the upward trend of the affliction rate.

Dr. Brathwaite noted the three-year-old study found that persons with pre-diabetes, or pre-cursor to diabetes is at 14.6 percent of the population.

Persons determined to be at the pre-diabetes stage are those whose lifestyles, ranging from diet to level of physical activity, plus age, have placed them on a collision course with diabetes.

On World Diabetes Day 2018, three years on, there is a strong likelihood that a large percentage of those at the pre-diabetic stage have gone over to becoming full blown diabetic.

Dr. Brathwaite said, “I don’t like that the term warning sign of diabetes, or pre-diabetes… because we know that we are seeing complications in people with pre-diabetes.”

She explained that one of those complications observed in the so-called pre-diabetes stage is neuropathy, which makes the term ‘pre-diabetes’ a misnomer because such persons are already suffering from the effects of diabetes.

“That meant nerve damage and other things in persons with pre-diabetes… It I not a benign thing,” she said of the signs of neuropathy complications.

Complications from diabetes cover a wide swath of issues that include direct medical care, frequent illness of those affected and their inability to work, along with the time spent by loved ones caring for such persons.

“[When] we think about diabetes we think about the individual but we also must think about the bigger picture as well,” Brathwaite commented.

Another medical doctor, Dr. Tania Whitby-Best, pointed out, “complications of diabetes cost a nation.”

Supporting her statement, the medical officer and head of the Student Health Clinic, and part-time lecturer at Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI, Cave Hill, cited a 2015 study of Latin America and the Caribbean showing a total cost of complications from diabetes to be in the range of US$16 to 26 billion.

Barbados’ share of that annual expense is somewhere between US$73 and $92 million.

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