National survey seeks to curb diabetes

Diabetes: There's hardly a family in Belize that has not been affected by the alarming rise of this sometimes fatal condition. But diabetes does not have to kill or disable so many Belizeans ... and that's why PAHO and the Ministry of Health may soon be knocking on your door.

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
A total of two thousand four hundred people have been randomly selected to participate in a countrywide survey that will help to develop a comprehensive programme for the management of diabetes and hypertension.

Today a team of nurses and medical students took to the city’s south side to interview the candidates chosen for the study. The initiative is spearheaded by the Pan American health Organization in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. According to PAHO’S technical advisor, Lorriane Thompson, a smaller 2003 survey revealed a large number of Belizeans were at risk of developing chronic non-communicable diseases like adult type two diabetes.

Lorraine Thompson, Technical Advisor, P.A.H.O., Belize
“What we did was to do a similar thing of measuring people and finding out their eating habits, their levels of physical activities and so on. And what we found in that study is that twenty-seven percent of people in Belize are obese and thirty-six percent are over–weight. Information from the Ministry of Health suggests that there is an increase. Diabetes mellitus is the number one cause of death and hospitalisation in the terms of the statistics for the chronic non-communicable diseases, followed by hypertension.”

The people who are being interviewed in the survey are persons twenty years and older because as people age their risk of developing the condition increases.

Lorraine Thompson
“The cut-off point tends to be forty as forty is a risk factor. Having reached forty you become more at risk, but statistics from the Ministry of Health is showing that as early as twenty we are having people hospitalised and people dying from diabetes and complications.”

Valerie Jenkins, M.O.H. Non-Communicable Disease Focal Point
“The risk factors we are looking at is obesity, our life style, the way we eat. The things we consume; when I say consume I mean like alcohol and things like that. The eating part we are looking at vegetables and fruits and that sort of thing and what are we doing there. In Belize we know when people are sick we are trying to find out before they become sick what is happening in our country.”

The information collected will be used as a guide to develop a national programme for the management of chronic non-communicable diseases and help to allocate the resources necessary to implement a plan of action.

Valerie Jenkins
“We’ll look at the lifestyle changes we need to make, how we import goods, because it is a national thing. We get a lot of junk food coming in, we produce a lot of junk food in our fast food places; we have to look seriously to what is happening within the country, and make serious harsh decision to better our health.”

Interviews have already been conducted in the Toledo District. The field work continues in the Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and the Belize districts. The team spends at least one hour with the candidate conducting interviews and medical checks. The information gathered is confidential. The survey is scheduled to be completed in a month; however, a major problem in Belize City may delay the work.

Ethan Gough, Coordinator/Consultant, Medical Survey
“It would help if people could cooperate and participate fully, and if they agree to participate in the study they do the interview and follow-up with the blood test later on which normally is about week after the interview; you have to go to the local health centre.”