World Diabetes Day - 14 November 2009

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The Crescent was lit blue for World Diabetes Day this Saturday, 14 November.

Tonight we are brought together by World Diabetes Day, an international event prompted by an acute need to raise awareness of the silent epidemic that is diabetes. Although most people have heard of, and at least know something about this disease, few truly grasp the pervasive nature of diabetes.

Unless you suffer from it yourself, or have a close relative or friend who has to live with it, it is hard to imagine the limitations this disease can place on people’s lives. Diabetes is a complex problem that every year affects an increasing number of people. It taxes health care systems; it strains families and can limit life’s enjoyment for sufferers.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, the number of people living with diabetes has risen from an estimated 30 million people to a staggering 250 million-plus, in just two decades. The Federation further predicts that unless we take urgent action, the total number of people with diabetes will reach 380 million by 2025.

But there is more: Health researchers pair the explosion of type 2 diabetes cases with the current obesity epidemic. Previously, type 2 was mainly an adult condition but now, many studies point to it being increasingly prevalent in overweight adolescents and children. This is especially worrying for us here in Cayman.

Earlier this year, annual health screenings revealed that 22 percent of our school children are obese and another 14.8 percent are overweight. The HSA estimates that 6% of the adult population in the Cayman Islands is being treated for Type 2 diabetes, and there may be a similar number who are unaware that they even have diabetes. Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.

However, type 2 diabetes – which is responsible for approximately 90 percent of all diabetes cases – is avoidable. And even better is the news that there is a simple and clear preventative strategy: Maintain a healthy weight and be active! So, with much of the solution within our grasp, it is imperative that we continue to work together to create social and physical environments that will motivate our children and our adults too, to make healthy lifestyle choices. Arming people with more knowledge about diabetes is a key element in addressing this growing problem.

Fittingly then, this year’s World Diabetes Day theme is Diabetes Education and Prevention. The Federation chose this to reflect the importance of empowerment through education, and to emphasize the importance of a multidisciplinary approach. Therefore this year’s campaign is a call to governments to implement effective strategies and policies to prevent and manage diabetes in order to safeguard the health of citizens with, and at risk of, diabetes.

For healthcare professionals, it is a call to improve knowledge so that evidence-based recommendations are put into practice. For the general public, it is a call to understand the serious impact of diabetes and where possible, to know how to avoid or delay the onset of diabetes and its complications. It is clear that we all have our roles to play—and it is equally clear that we cannot afford to ignore them. As far as our government is concerned, my ministry supports primary and preventative health care initiatives within the Health Services Authority and Public Health Department. We particularly endorse those that will strengthen our early detection abilities.

We will continue to work with other ministries, agencies and departments in order to create an environment that assists people to make healthy choices. In this regard, we already have some noteworthy initiatives on the ground, such as the Children’s Health Task Force that is piloting a multi-component program within schools to teach children to make healthy lifestyle choices and maintain healthy weights.

Cayman is also blessed with an active volunteer population, and many non-governmental organizations are already helping to create healthier communities. For instance, we held a very successful sports camp programme this past summer in which hundreds of children participated. This represented part of my ministry’s goal to get all our children active, and we will continue to expand the initiative. I also want to commend our local diabetes support groups – the Cayman Islands Diabetic Association and the Diabetic Support Group. I am particularly glad that Cayman Brac also now has its own Diabetic Support Group run by Dana Scott at the Faith Hospital. I wish you all well with your work, and especially with your drive to become a member of the International Diabetes Federation. This will surely enhance your access to global resources in the fight against diabetes.

Finally though, I must also point to the fact that no amount of work on the part of government, NGOs or the health care industry can be effective without being accompanied by a change in the hearts and minds of our people. I therefore call on every parent to make a commitment to yourself and your family. Start with something as simple as setting your family a goal of at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling or dancing. The physical benefits – and the bonus rewards that come with spending quality time together – will surely surprise you.

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