Written by Miguel Vella, MD2, and Non-Communicable Diseases Coordinator
Diabetes affects people from all walks of life and all ages. In simple terms, it is a condition that affects the body’s ability to control the amount of sugar (or glucose) in one’s blood. Normally, insulin—a hormone produced by the pancreas—works to convert excess glucose into fat and glycogen but in the case of those suffering from diabetes, this process does not work properly. While the condition affects people in many countries, in Malta we have good reason to consider it as a serious threat given its relative frequency in our country. Malta has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe (Department of Health Information and Research, 2008) and around 10% of the adult population suffers from some form of diabetes (International Diabetes Federation, 2013).
‘Don’t Sugar-coat it’is the slogan for this year’s World Diabetes Day. Set to take place this Saturday 17th November, World Diabetes Day is an event organised annually by the Malta Medical Student Association (MMSA) in Valletta. While the MMSA has employed different approaches to educating the general public about diabetes as well as AIDS, cancer and even mental health, this year’s event promises to be bigger than ever and reach many more people. In fact, ’World Diabetes Day’tends to be the largest event every year, attracting hundreds of people.
There are different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce insulin, in which case insulin shots are needed to survive. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is when the body no longer responds well to insulin. Type 2 diabetes is often the result of a bad diet and lack of exercise and can be controlled through an adequate change in lifestyle. This year we will also place an emphasis on yet another type of diabetes known as gestational diabetes. This is a complication of pregnancy which usually clears up at the end of pregnancy. It is actually the second most common problem encountered during pregnancy (Department of Health Information & Research,2012). Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to various complications such as heart disease, eye problems and kidney disease. Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death and disability in diabetics (Morrish, Wang, Stevens, Fuller, & Keen, 2001).
The focus of this year’s campaign is detection, prevention and management. Over the years we have given people the opportunity to get tested for diabetes and high blood pressure for free. Regular health check ups are an integral part of the early detection of many different health problems. Early detection is the best way to try and solve these problems before they are given time to fester into something more severe. During this year’s event, free nutritional advice will also be offered to all visitors as well as the opportunity to win prizes through quizzes and a photo competition, a public Zumba class will take place and even a variety of different activities for children. The aim is to help people learn about diabetes as well as encourage them to lead healthier lifestyles and recognise that diabetes is not a death sentence and can be controlled and prevented by taking the necessary steps. Just a 10% reduction in body weight can reduce someone’s risk of developing diabetes by half (Wald, Bestwick, & Morris, 2012). To many first year medical students, World Diabetes Day also offers the opportunity to start working with people and finally put to use some of the skills they have learned so far in their university course.
So our message is simple…Don’t Sugar Coat It.
World Diabetes day will be held on Saturday, 17th November in front of Parliament building in Valletta, between 9am to 2pm.