Head of Diabetes Association says Covid-19 forcing improvements to personal health

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By Orville Williams

One of the few positives to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is an improved attitude toward personal health.  This, according to (retired) Nurse Juanita James, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Diabetes Association.

The association recognised World Diabetes Day on November 14, with a screening event for both diabetes and hypertension, and it was a relative success, with over 100 people participating. Speaking to Observer recently, James explained that she has been noticing a change among some of their members.

“What I’ve seen a bit of, is some people paying a little bit more attention [to their health], because the news is out that if you are living with diabetes – especially if it is not well controlled – and you get Covid-19, [there is] a greater chance of you having serious complications.

“There is [also] a higher risk of death in persons living with the chronic diseases, if they contract Covid-19. So, I think for some people, it makes them want to pay more attention to looking after themselves, [though] I can’t say it’s [happening] across the board.”

Along with the changes to personal health, there is another positive being observed within the association. Type 2 diabetes – once considered solely an adult disease – has been affecting an increasing number of children below 18 years, on a global scale.

So far during the pandemic though, James says the association has fortunately not been receiving any newly-diagnosed children.

“For children [in] this period, I have only met one new child – not newly diagnosed, just new to us – and heard about another. So, I don’t know if there has been any increase among [that group].

“The diabetes association includes children and their parents in our work and generally, we are in touch with at least ten children. We know of others who are not necessarily a part of the association, but we [only] met a new one recently.”

James] shared details on how the association has been managing throughout the pandemic. With almost every similar group faced with decreased resources, the Diabetes Association has not been spared. Despite the setbacks, she says they have been doing their best to continue the core work.

“I think we are rising above it, and I’ll give two examples. In terms of our education programs and our monthly meeting, we are having [it] via Zoom. It is true we don’t get to reach some persons who may not have that capacity to join us, but we keep in touch with others by telephone.

“We [also] have our Facebook page, we have a WhatsApp chat group, and as I said, we reach out to persons via the telephone [as well]. We can’t do as many face-to-face interactions, but we have found ways and means to carry on our work.

“Our education programs have not stopped [either]. [The pandemic] has in a sense, limited where we can conduct those programs – say in schools or in workplaces – but we forge ahead nonetheless.”

A focus has also been placed on providing their members with additional assistance and this, James explained, is bearing fruit.

“We are also part of a project from the OECS and the World Diabetes Foundation; it’s a diabetes care and prevention project. One of the things we were able to implement – although it had looked like we weren’t going to be able to do it – is a backyard gardening program for families that have a family member living with diabetes.

“That has been going pretty well, since the end of June when we launched that, and we are forging ahead, people are reaping, people are using crops from their gardens and incorporating them into their meals.”

Finally, James says that one of the improvements that could be made to the association is a permanent space to operate.

“This is why I say we need to have our [own] facility where people can drop in. It may not be every day of the week we could operate, but in other islands they do have office space and they do offer [screening and testing] services. “We are fortunate [though], because we do have our health centres in every community and you can drop into one of those health centres and ask to be checked.”

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