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Diabetics in Uganda
Living with Type 1 diabetes is hard. Anyone who lives with it knows that managing this condition requires checking one’s blood sugar multiple times a day, injecting just the right amount of insulin at mealtimes, eating and exercising when appropriate to keep the blood sugar number manageable and keeping plenty of emergency supplies on hand when things inevitably go wrong. However, diabetes is much harder for people living in Uganda, as life-saving supplies in this African nation are expensive and hard to come by. Fortunately, Myabetic, a small retail company helps diabetics in Uganda to earn money and afford these incredibly important supplies.

Diabetes in Uganda

Diabetes is poorly understood in Uganda and is often misdiagnosed as yellow fever, malaria, or cerebral meningitis. Those who are diagnosed correctly are often forbidden from going to school or even work because communities are often scared of their condition. They usually go to clinics once a month to have their blood sugar tested and receive their insulin supplies. However, many people do not give themselves enough insulin because they don’t know their own blood sugar number most of the time, and that is when the real trouble begins.

In Uganda, to be told that one has Type 1 diabetes is to be told that one will live a hard, painful life that will slowly lead to an equally painful death. Most diabetics in Uganda cannot afford the insulin and blood sugar supplies that they need to live. Changing Diabetes in Children used to give diabetic children these supplies for free, but the program was shut down in 2017. Insulin for Life also works to gives supplies to Ugandans who need it. But a shortage remains. To make things even worse the fact remains that without insulin, an individual with Type 1 diabetes will live a week or two at most.

Diabetic Neuropathy

With too little insulin, blood sugar numbers will run high, leading to a host of complications, including diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage caused by having consistently high blood sugar numbers. This is all too common among diabetics in Uganda. There are four types of diabetic neuropathy: peripheral, autonomic, proximal and focal. Peripheral neuropathy causes tingling, numbness, or pain in the feet, legs and occasionally arms. Autonomic neuropathy causes digestive problems- from heartburn to vomiting, dizziness, low blood pressure, faster heartbeat, genital problems in both sexes, either increased or decreased urination and/or bloating. Proximal neuropathy causes weakness in the legs and pain in the thighs, hips, or rear. Focal neuropathy causes muscle weakness, muscle pains, eye pains, double vision, facial paralysis, chest or belly pain and/or severe pain in one specific area. All of these forms of diabetic neuropathy ravage diabetics in Uganda, causing their bodies to slowly shut down due to chronically high blood sugar numbers.

About Myabetic

Myabetic is a retail company founded by Kyrra Richards. When she was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 24, she was embarrassed. She hid her condition from everyone by not checking her blood sugar or doing insulin in public, which threatened her life. Part of the problem was her standard black supply case, which looked ugly and made her fear stigma even more. She founded Myabetic to sell aesthetically pleasing cases and other devices in which to carry diabetes supplies.

Although the company’s main goal is to make diabetics feel better about themselves by giving them prettier carrying cases, they sell other diabetes paraphernalia as well. Among these items are bracelets handcrafted by diabetic artists in Uganda. The bracelets come in red, blue, yellow, and green and they cost $15 each. These profits go directly back to the artists, allowing them to buy the supplies they need to survive.

Life with diabetes is hard. Life with diabetes in Uganda is even worse. Those who do not die are shunned, given barely enough supplies to survive and are left to die. Fortunately, Myabetic helps diabetics in Uganda to afford supplies by selling the bracelets that diabetic Ugandans make. The bracelets may be inexpensive by American standards, but every penny counts when someone needs diabetes supplies to live. Thanks to Myabetic, these Ugandan artists have a new chance to hope for a better life.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

bionic_pancreas
Type 1 diabetes diagnoses break the hearts of parents to almost half a million children worldwide each year. Once caught, the implications of a lifestyle change are immediate and lifelong, and worried parents will continuously contemplate their child’s safety and future.

Such was the case for Ed Damiano, who was told that his infant son David was a Type 1 diabetic at only 11 months old. From that moment on, Ed and his wife, Toby Milgrome, became 24-hour human monitors of their son’s blood sugar levels. Diabetes is a condition that does not sleep. As a matter of fact, sleep is one of the most dangerous events of a diabetic’s life since blood sugar levels can surge, which can result in death.

Ed has gone as far as to make it a habit to check his son’s levels in the middle of the night while he sleeps, even now that he is 15 years old. He has also displayed another significant response to address his son’s disease – developing a “bionic pancreas.”

Ed is part of a team of scientists at Boston University who are now pushing the bionic pancreas into its first long-term testing period with volunteer diabetics after recent approval. Previously, 20 adults and 32 adolescents monitored in hotel rooms for five days were hooked up to the devices with almost full dietary freedom. The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the participants were healthier than when administering levels themselves.

Traditionally, diabetics test blood sugar levels several times a day with a portable device that uses small blood samples. If blood sugar is too low, the diabetic takes a glucagon hormone injection; if blood sugar is high, they take an insulin injection to lower it. A diabetic’s pancreas does not produce these hormones naturally, making sugar toxic to their blood.

The new bionic pancreas automatically checks blood sugar levels regularly. It is secured to the patient’s abdomen with tiny tubes inserted under the patient’s skin. The device decides when to make glucagon or insulin increases without any manual operation. Levels can be read real-time with the use of an app on an Apple gadget.

Study participants such as Ariana Coster, a 23-year-old diabetic, expressed how great the feeling of neglect can be – even simply eating a cookie without having to check blood sugar levels. For David and his parents, they are just relieved that the device is likely to be ready by the time he goes off to college in a couple of years.

“My whole life I’ve just known – just had this knowledge that my dad is going to have this bionic pancreas out when I go to college,” says David. “I’m confident in him. He works really hard – really hard.”

— Edward Heinrich

Sources: Time, NPR, USA Today
Photo: Public Broadcasting

diabetes in India
In today’s world where diets are high in refined sugars and lifestyles are low in exercise, more and more individuals than ever are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This problem is especially bad in people of South Asian origin who are six times more likely to contract diabetes than Caucasians.

Type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 in that type 1 sets in at a very young age and is considered to be caused mostly by genetics whereas type 2 diabetes is viewed as a “lifestyle disease,” although genetic disposition may play a role. High amounts of sugar consumption combined with a lack of exercise can result in damaging the pancreas’ ability to produce and regulate insulin.

While diabetes is generally considered to be a manageable illness in countries like the United States, it is a different story for those diagnosed with diabetes in India and other, poorer countries. A higher number of Indians have diabetes than residents of the U.S. do, and many of them must endure without treatment. Indian hospitals are host to many patients suffering from diabetes’ worst consequences, including blindness, kidney failure, coma and death.

India is a developing nation, meaning it is in a transitional economic phase, like Britain was during the Industrial Revolution. This means more and more people are working sedentary jobs and eating out more often. Working a nine-to-five office job leaves little time for exercise, and restaurant food is generally considered to be worse than food prepared at home due to the large portion sizes and high amounts of calories and saturated fats. This changing lifestyle combined with Indians’ predisposition to diabetes is resulting in a skyrocketing number of cases, with an estimated 65 million people in India currently living with diabetes. This number is expected to increase to 109 million over the next 20 years.

While it is unclear why South Asians have this genetic predisposition to diabetes, there are many theories to attempt to explain it. One such theory is a study from Glasgow University that claims South Asians’ muscles do not burn fat as efficiently as European’s muscles do. The study found that the genes responsible for fat metabolism were significantly lower in South Asians, and this may be the reason why people of South Asian descent more easily gain weight and develop diabetes. Additionally, because diabetes is genetic, there is concern that the number of people developing type 2 diabetes now will lead to a higher number of babies born with diabetes in the future.

Diabetes is a condition that stays with people all their lives. There is no cure or easy solution. Treatment is costly, and for Indians living on less than $2 a day, their income is not enough to afford the everyday management that the condition requires. Even many people who have bypassed the poverty line do not have the means to treat their illness. In fact, many people do not even know they have diabetes until symptoms become severe. In a country like India where only 10 percent of the population has health insurance, the best course of action is to educate people on diabetes prevention.

Diabetes can be avoided by eating healthy foods like fruit and vegetables, and exercising regularly. However, even in countries like the U.S. where people know how they should be living, people find it difficult to change their lifestyle. People of South Asian descent will have to work even harder than other races to prevent diabetes due to their genetics, and whether or not they will is worrisome. An aggressive anti-diabetes campaign, better nutrition for children and an improved health care system will all be needed to combat the diabetes epidemic in India. Other countries that are struggling with this disease include China, Indonesia and Pakistan.

— Taylor Lovett 

Sources: Diabetes.co.uk, BBC, New York Times
Photo: Health Me Up