One in every ten deaths in Barbados since 1980 has been diabetes-related but the representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on the island, Dr Godfrey Xuereb, says the illness and related deaths are preventable.
His remarks yesterday came as PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO), to which PAHO is affiliated, joined with the Ministry of Health on the eve of the observance of World Health Day, to launch the Global Report on Diabetes at PAHO’s Dayrell’s Road, Christ Church compound.
Dr Xuereb said the United Nations organization had chosen to focus on diabetes for its international observance this year because of the devastating effect of the disease on the global population.
He handed over copies of the report to Minister of Health John Boyce and Professor Sir Trevor Hassell, Chairman of the Non-Communicable Chronic Disease Commission of Barbados.
Dr Xuereb, a public health nutritionist at the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI) in Jamaica before taking up the PAHO post, said the situation of Barbados with regard to diabetes was troubling, as the island was high on the negative list of countries with increasing numbers of persons so afflicted.
“In Barbados, we know that 14 in every 100 citizens is known to have diabetes. This is the third highest rate in the Americas, and follows St Kitts and St Lucia,” he said.
Pointing out that for every known diabetic, scientific evidence showed that there was another person living with the condition who did not know, the PAHO representative said: “Although 14 out of 100 might not look like a big number, we know the impact of diabetes is felt by individuals, families, communities and national economies”.
“So it is far more than the 14 out of 100 that know they have diabetes who are really affected,” he added.
The Barbadian death rate stemming from diabetes is outstripped only by cancer and heart-related illnesses.
Dr Xuereb said Barbados’ 50th anniversary of Independence was a good enough occasion for all to pitch in and help fight the scourge of diabetes that threatens to overtake the land.
He asked Barbadians to recognize that diabetes was preventable through lifestyle changes and advised that they should move away from dependence on health officials for treatment by taking individual action before the onset of the illness.
“Diabetes can be prevented by reducing overweight and obesity, and we know that more than seven out of every ten Barbadian females are overweight, and almost six out of ten men have now joined them in this grouping,” he said
The PAHO official said Barbados was ranked as having the fourth highest rate of obesity in the Americas, following the United States, The Bahamas and Canada.
Consistent with the message Barbadian medical personnel have been sending out for years, Dr Xuereb said a change of dietary habits must be combined with physical activity.
“Four out of every ten adults in Barbados are not doing enough physical activity,” he said.
Stressing again that everyone had a role to play in ridding the island of diabetes, Dr Xuereb turned his attention to the managers of offices with working environments that promoted the most inactive lifestyles.
“I ask you, how many of our offices have facilities which enable staff to be physically active before or after work?. How many of us reach the 60 minutes per week [exercise] recommended by WHO for adults?”