Taming the ‘beast’ of diabetes

Taming the ‘beast’ of diabetes

Staff Reporter

MASERU – The 2014 Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey (LDHS) says about half of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people do not know the symptoms of sugar diabetes.
The study says the majority of those diagnosed with diabetes and have been prescribed to take diabetes treatment have opted to use herbs from traditional healers.
Last week, thepost spoke to Dr Kabelo Mputsoe, Head of Non-Communicable Diseases Section and the focal person in cancer prevention and control programme in the Ministry of Health to mark Diabetes Week. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Why is there a need to have an awareness campaign on diabetes?
First of all, we have to understand what sugar diabetes is so that we can have our own assessment of whether we need to up our campaign or not.
Sugar diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when there’s not enough insulin to move the sugar into body cells, which is where the sugar is used for energy.
This occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or when it cannot effectively use the insulin it has produced to help the body metabolise the sugar that is formed from the food we eat.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar, which gives us the energy we need to live. Unable to get into the cells to be burned as energy, the sugar can build up to harmful levels in the blood. So, now that we understand what sugar diabetes is, we have to understand what cases sugar diabetes also to see if there is an urgent need to raise the level of our campaign against the disease. Apart from the fact that it is hereditary, sugar diabetes is caused by tobacco smoking, (excessive) drinking of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, lack of physical activity and poor diet.

What has prompted you to raise the awareness of the disease?
We have studies that show the extent to which Basotho are at risk of having sugar diabetes. In 2012, with the assistance of the World Health Organisation, we had a Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Survey and sugar diabetes is one of the non-communicable diseases.
The survey showed that four percent of the population has sugar diabetes, an increment from 2002’s 1.5 percent prevalence.
It has more than doubled in 10 years and this is a concern that requires every one of us, including you in the media, to stand up and fight against this disease.

What could have contributed to this increase?
We have to put it plainly that our behaviour as Basotho does not promote good health. For example, the survey shows that a quarter of the population (of 1.8 million people) is smoking tobacco.

Also 35 percent of the people drink alcohol. The studies further reveal that most people who have diabetes are women despite that the majority of them do not smoke and do not drink alcohol.

Why are most women at risk or are already diabetic?
The answer is simple, many women despise physical activity. They do not engage in physical activity but they are the ones who eat unhealthy foods that have a lot of sugar.
They eat fatty foods and like to taste foods as they prepare them for their families.

This has created a problem of obesity among Lesotho women. 32 percent of our women are obese compared to only eight percent of men who are obese.
The number of obese women is four times greater than the number of obese men. This country has a serious problem of people who do not engage in physical activities.
The study shows that 44 percent of the population do not engage in physical activity and 56.7 percent of them are women. Smoking of tobacco and alcohol drinking contribute immensely in the rise in sugar diabetes. The studies show that 30.7 percent of both sexes drink alcohol and 47.3 of them are men.
Also 24.5 percent of the population smoke tobacco and 48.7 percent of them are men. Also the
Body Mass Index has shown that 60 percent of Basotho women are overweight, meaning that their body weight is over 30kg per metre square.
The normal weight should be between 17 and 25kg per metre square. This requires a call for action.

What should be done to reverse this?
There is a need to make people conscious about their health needs, especially in relation to sugar diabetes. People should know the nutritional value of the food they eat.
One should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This was mastered by our ancient Basotho who depended on vegetables and fruits and we Basotho of today eat too much fat and sweets.

We also have to continue promoting physical activities. Burn that fat in your body.
We have people who are always in their cars because they do not want to walk. This is time for us to walk, use cycling as our mode of transport and ride on horseback because by so doing we will be engaged in physical activity.

We have already entered into agreements with several stakeholders especially clubs or physical activity associations that promote going to the gyms and other activities.
We have hikers also who have approached us to form partnerships. Also the Ministry of Sports is contributing immensely in promoting sport.
How is your relationship with nutritionists from the Ministry of Agriculture and other sectors in the fight against diabetes?
We have that sector in the Ministry of Health. However, we have working relations with other nutritionists whose job is to teach about the value of the food we eat.
Our relationship is not only based on the fight against sugar diabetes but in the fight against other diseases as well.

To what extent can you say the people understand or don’t understand sugar diabetes?
We can say people have heard about the disease but many don’t even know about its symptoms.
The Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey shows that 91 percent of women have heard about sugar diabetes and 87 percent of men have heard about it.
However, four in 10 of women don’t know any symptoms of diabetes. That says there is a gap that has to be filled by you and me. Some of them have not heard about it at all.
The district of Maseru is the one that has more people who have some knowledge about sugar diabetes with 96 percent of people who have heard about it. Thaba-Tseka is the lowest.
The survey also shows that 98 percent of the people who have attended school beyond secondary education have some knowledge about the disease and 83 percent of those who have not been to school at all heard about it.

This also shows that not being educated denies one an opportunity to learn about diseases like sugar diabetes.
Do you think your ministry has done enough to sensitise the nation and to advocate for healthy lifestyles?
We are trying but there are some shortcomings. It should be a normal practice at health centres that when a patient arrives they should be tested for diabetes exactly the way their blood pressure is measured.

If you are not asked to test for diabetes at the clinic when you enter it means that we are not yet there as the ministry.
Something is missing. It is true that we have advertised it a lot in almost every health centre with educational literature that includes pamphlets and other materials but I think it’s high time that people know their status through testing at the clinics.
Now, the studies show that 83.3 percent of women who go to the clinics have never been tested for diabetes and 86.7 percent of men.
So far 53 percent of patients have been advised by health professionals to be on special diet. 40.1 percent were advised to lose weight, 25 percent to stop smoking and 47 percent to engage in physical activity.

However, despite these efforts by the ministry the media is promoting the use of herbs instead of prescribed treatment and as a result 15.8 percent of our patients have opted to go to traditional healers.

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