I never paid much attention to diabetes and its related ailments until I became seriously ill in 2015. Each time I went to the hospital for treatment, one of the tests the doctors recommended for me was blood-sugar test, and each time the nurses drew my blood and told me that my blood-sugar level was normal, I wondered, with irritation, the essence of the test in the first place. However, years later, I realised that while my blood sugar was—and is still normal—normal, there are millions of people in the world suffering from blood-sugar diseases, including diabetes.
In the same 2015, when I was doing my youth service in Osun State, there was this indignant elderly man who lived three blocks from my compound. One of his legs was amputated. He had diabetes and was at the risk of losing the other leg, which was already swollen. Prior to that, I did not know that diabetes could cause someone to loss a leg. Because I understand that diabetes could be a genetic condition, each time I saw the man, I wondered how many of his children and generations would suffer the same fate. Worse still, with lack of money and efficient medical care, I wondered how many unfortunate people like him lacked proper treatment or management of the condition.
I have a friend whose mother has incipient diabetes, but kept it secret from her family. Since his mother and his father, go to the same hospitals for treatment, one day, a doctor from the hospital asked his father how he was helping his mother to manage her diabetes, and his father was surprised to hear this. I was surprised when my friend told me this. I wondered why her mother chose not to inform her family about her diabetes condition. Was she ashamed of her illness? Was she ignorant of the deadliness of her illness? Did she not care about her health? Did she not want her family to contribute to her treatment and care? The questions were endless.
My knowledge of diabetes became richer, in 2017, when I was a graduate student at the University of Ibadan. During my studentship, I stumbled on The Nation’s November 24, 2017 news article titled ‘I’ve been living with diabetes for over 30 years – Obasanjo’. From the article, I learnt that former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been living with diabetes for thirty years out of his over eighty years on earth. He revealed this on the morning of 2017 World Diabetes Day when he led hundreds of people on a road walk for diabetes awareness in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
The significance of this public awareness, championed by a national figure and a former president, cannot be overemphasised. This public declaration by Obasanjo, about his health, when other public figures and politicians would hardly do so, provided more information on diabetes. Another interesting part of that day was when, the former chairman of Diabetes Association of Nigeria (DAN), Professor Sunny Chieneye, in a lecture titled ‘Women and Diabetic: Our Right to Healthy Living’, called for concerted efforts to check the menace of diabetes.
While I was at Ibadan, I had a postgraduate anatomy neighbour, Cynthia Ibe, who was researching type-2 diabetes. It was then I knew there are two types of diabetes— type 1 and 2. She enlightened me more on the causes, management and treatment of diabetes. Our conversation became more interesting and intellectual to the point she told me about the little albino rats she was using for her experiments, the photographs from her results, the reagents and herb extracts she was using for her work, and the hope her research could bring to people suffering from diabetes.
Diabetes—a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower-limb amputation—prevalence has been rising more rapidly in middle- and low-income countries. World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in 2016. According to International Diabetes Federation (IDF), it is estimated that 415 million people are living with diabetes in the world, which is estimated to be 1 in 11 of the world’s adult population. The figure is expected to rise to 642 million people living with diabetes worldwide by 2040. About 5 million Nigerians live with diabetes, and an estimated two-thirds of diabetics in Nigeria remain undiagnosed. Sadly, this number is going to increase by 2040.
The theme for the diabetes awareness month and World Diabetes Day 2018 and 2019 is ‘Family and Diabetes’. “A two-year timeframe has been chosen to best facilitate planning, development, promotion and participation,” IDF said. Despite the majority of people surveyed having a family member with diabetes, an alarming four-in-five parents would have trouble recognising the warning signs. One-in-three would not spot them at all.
I sometimes wonder why, irrespective many campaigns and research across the world, diabetes still ravages hundreds of millions of people. While I may not understand why this is possible, I am glad that people like Cynthia Ibe, and organisations like WHO and IDF are making sure that diabetes is well-controlled and managed. They have informed us that diabetes could be treated and its consequences could be avoided or delayed with healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight, avoiding tobacco, medication, and regular screening and treatment for complications.
For me, the biggest hope for people living with diabetes in Nigeria and in the world came from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. “This is my message. Whether you’re diabetic or you have a family or friend with diabetes, diabetes is not a killer disease or it should not be a killer disease unless you are careless.” He said this on November 24, 2017 during a road walk in Abeokuta. Obasanjo’s message really encapsulates the theme of the 2019 World Diabetes Day, and I wish my former Osun next-block amputee neighbour, my friend’s mother and millions of others suffering from diabetes could benefit from this invaluable message.
Kingsley Alumona is with the Nigerian Tribune