Know Your Risk and Your Numbers: It Is a Lifesaving Practice

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Diabetes is a major health concern in the Caribbean region, affecting millions of people and burdening healthcare systems.  

The Caribbean has one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes in the world, with many individuals unknowingly living with the condition. Factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and limited access to healthcare have contributed to this alarming rise.  

In 2019, according to the World Health Organization, 1.5 million lives were lost to diabetes globally.  

Alarmingly, several Caribbean countries reported the highest age-standardised death rates due to diabetes. 

“The burden of diabetes is not limited to mortality; it is also a significant contributor to morbidity in the regional population. Complications from diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.  This disease can adversely affect both the quality and length of your life, and that of your family.  

If you are diabetic, following your treatment regimen and keeping your blood glucose and blood pressure under control are important to avoid serious complications of the disease,” said Dr. Joy St John, Executive Director of that Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). 

Over the last three years 2021-23, the theme for World Diabetes Day has been access to diabetes care. The 2023 campaign focuses on the importance of knowing your risk of type 2 diabetes to help delay or prevent the condition and highlighting the impact of diabetes-related complications; as well as the importance of having access to the right information and care to ensure timely treatment and management.

CARPHA is on the frontlines of the regional response to diabetes. The agency’s efforts include the update of the Diabetes Guidelines for the Management of Diabetes in Primary Care in the Caribbean, which aims to provide standardised and high-quality care for individuals with diabetes in the Region. Furthermore, the Diabetes Nutritional Management Toolkit is available to support healthcare providers in delivering consistent and evidence-based nutritional guidance. 

The Agency has also produced a Parents’ Guide to a Healthier Child, which can be used to help reduce children’s risks associated with unhealthy weight, such as diabetes.

Dr. Heather Armstrong, Head of Chronic Diseases and Injury at CARPHA: “Type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent form of diabetes, is a condition heavily influenced by lifestyle and genetic factors.  Several factors may increase your risk of having diabetes. Some of them are under your control; others are not.  

The ones not under your control are called non-modifiable risk factors and include increasing age; previously having poor sugar control (pre-diabetes) diagnosed by your doctor.  Other factors include having a first-degree relative (parent/brother/sister) with diabetes; and ethnicity.”

What you can control are called modifiable factors.  These include:

  • Physical inactivity – not moving enough and not getting enough exercise
  • Having an unhealthy diet – especially consuming foods with too much carbohydrate content
  • Being overweight or obese

“Know your numbers” is not just a slogan; it is a life-saving practice.   It pertains to everyone, in addition to certain groups such as clinicians, caregivers, policymakers and programme managers. 

For everyone, knowing your risk for type 2 diabetes is the first step in prevention.   Early detection and timely intervention can significantly reduce the risk of developing the condition. A balanced diet, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight are effective strategies for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

It empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their health and manage their condition effectively. Awareness and self-care can help delay or prevent complications.  

For persons living with diabetes, “knowing your numbers” means monitoring blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and A1C.

It is about providing access to sufficient training and resources to detect complications early and provide the best possible care. Well-informed and empowered healthcare professionals are essential for managing the diabetes epidemic.

For caregivers, knowing your loved one’s numbers is crucial for providing the necessary support and encouragement.  It helps caregivers assist individuals in managing their diabetes and making healthy choices.

This World Diabetes Day, let us remember the importance of knowing your numbers, supporting those living with diabetes, and striving for a healthier Caribbean. By raising awareness and taking proactive steps, we can combat the diabetes epidemic and make strides toward a brighter and healthier future.

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