The recent disclosure that about 5.5 per cent of the country’s population is sickened by diabetes ordinarily may not ruffle feathers outside the medical circle. Translating into a little over nine million Nigerians out of the 180m, the figure can be easily brushed aside as insignificant compared to other prevalent diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, etc.
Speaking at a 3-day Diabetes Awareness Workshop with the theme, Bringing Research in Diabetes to Global Environment and System (BRIDGES), at the Novena University, Ogume, Delta state, under the auspices of the International Diabetes Foundation and Global Medical Research and Development Organisation (GMRDO) sometime ago, one of the lead presenters, Dr. Ezekiel Uba Uwose, noted: “Diabetes is one of the major problems in the world that are easily connected with metabolic syndrome that predisposes to heart diseases.”
He said that participants at the workshop that included healthcare professionals, public health staff and students would in turn organise diabetic patients and train them on how to manage the disease, especially on lifestyle methods.
Another resource person, Mr. Otovwe Agofure, raised the alarm that over 25.46 per cent of the people living in Ughelli community alone are afflicted by the sickness, noting that it signposted the prevalence of the disease in the country. He expressed the apprehension that many people might not know that they were carriers of the disorder until they collapse as it is also a forerunner of hypertension.
In their own submissions, the coordinators of the workshop, Prof. Eunice Igumbo and Prof. Ifeoma Ulasi, stressed the need for participants to carry out massive campaigns on awareness, food options and physical activities.
However, the above-mentioned statistics may not be a reflection of the true position of the scourge. There could be many more people afflicted by the ailment that are not captured by whatever method used in arriving at the data.
Curiously, the non-communicable malady is now prevalent among adolescents and young adults and it is attributed partly to the rapid socio-cultural changes experienced in most developing countries, leading to the adoption of new lifestyles and risky behaviours. The modifiable shared risk factors for diabetes also include tobacco use, unhealthy nutrition, lack of physical activity and harmful use of alcohol. If the disease is discovered late or managed poorly, it could lead to amputation of the lower limb, chronic renal failure, hypertension, visual impairment or blindness and multiple organ damage associated with atherosclerosis among others.
Diabetes, genetic or acquired, is a disorder in metabolism in which sugar and starch are not properly absorbed from the blood, causing excessive thirst and the production of large amounts of urine. However, it is not surprising that the disease is conquering so many Nigerians. Health awareness is not common even among the urban dwellers and the enlightened. Grinding poverty has overwhelmed the vast majority of Nigerians. Oppressed for too long by successive bad governments, ordinary Nigerians have gradually lost the sense of keeping fit by eating good food and engaging in exercises, as they struggle daily just to survive. Ironically, the rich are also susceptible to diabetes.
As rightly observed by experts, a large number of those afflicted by the disease go about unaware of the time-bomb ticking around them. Nigerians ought to take their health seriously. Many people, especially in the rural areas, do not have access to experts who can diagnose the disease. Some are quick to blame witches in the village or the enemy next door for their afflictions. When some finally get to know that they are carriers of the ailment, it is either too late for them to commence useful treatment or they do not have the resources to manage it.
Over six decades after independence, Nigeria is still lagging behind in all indices of human development. The health centres in both rural and urban communities still lack adequate facilities to handle such terminal diseases as diabetes. Then, there are the perennial strikes by health personnel which have become the hallmark of the sector, leading many who can afford it to seek medical attention overseas. Others patronise quacks or resort to guesswork and self-medication.
Government at all levels has the primary responsibility to provide functional and adequate healthcare for the people. But it is pertinent to point out that Nigerians must fully realise the importance of physical exercise, aside from good nutrition, as a precondition for controlling or staving off the disease. Those who can afford it should make conscious efforts to see that they eat balanced diet, avoid junk meals and soft drinks that can lead to obesity or being overweight and engage in regular physical exercises in order to keep their bodies fit.