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Diabetes cases jump as a result of pandemic

Jean Akol, left, president of Hamilton Rotary Club, with a young diabetes patient, at the presentation of a $6,000 donation to Sara Bosch de Noya, educator at the Bermuda Diabetes Association, and Raphael Loutoby, a nephrologist at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (Photograph supplied)

The caseload of the Bermuda Diabetes Association surged after the island endured more than one year of pandemic conditions, Hamilton Rotary Club heard yesterday.

The charity tackling one of Bermuda’s most prevalent chronic illnesses also saw triple the usual demand for its patient assistance programme helping people cover the medication expenses.

Sara Bosch de Noya, a diabetes educator at the association, said she had seen a “huge number of new referrals in the last month” from people potentially at risk from the disease.

She said stress, dietary changes and less physical activity could be driving up numbers, but added that the pandemic could have prodded people into thinking more about their health.

“I found a subset of my patients, people that were at home furloughed for two or three months of the lockdown last year, who started exercising more and doing things like home gardening. There were some people that saw less stressful out of work experiences.”

Ms Bosch de Noya told the club she had joined a webinar by the International Diabetes Federation in the spring that predicted a rise in Type 2 diabetes, “particularly in youth”.

“Physical education wasn’t happening; they were home-schooled for months and months,” she said. “Their lives have changed.”

She added: “With Covid and lifestyle change and the way our diets have changed through stress, we are looking at a potential global increase in numbers with Type 2 diabetes following the pandemic.”

Type 1 diabetes arises from a disorder of the pancreas, which produces the hormone insulin to control blood sugar.

Ms Bosch de Noya estimated the illness accounted for 100 to 150 patients on the island.

“We probably have 8,000 to 9,000 people living with Type 2, and 80 per cent is thought to be prevented or delayed by lifestyle modifications.”

Top culprits are typically obesity and diet, such as the consumption of high-sugar drinks.

The association, which moved into a new headquarters last August on Dundonald Street, is dealing with a boom in numbers of people learning about diabetes management.

She said in a typical year recently, “I would see about 400 patients a year”.

“Last year there were 795 coming for education, and this year, in the first six months, I have seen 700 patients. So the numbers of people I see for education are steadfastly increasing.

The association, which runs a pharmacy at the Hilton Hill Diabetes Centre on the corner of Dundonald Street and Princess Street, has seen a sharp rise in demand for patient assistance.

“Probably the biggest thing we’re involved in since last year is trying to support people who are under-insured or lost their insurance through Covid-19, so that we didn’t have a further crisis,” she said.

The programme, helping patients often dealing with several prescription medications, spiked from about $60,000 annually to roughly $200,000 in the last year.

But Ms Bosch de Noya said she was optimistic about patients’ prospects for turning their illness around, especially with the help of technology.

A donation from the club has gone to help three young people with diabetes get high-tech devices to help them take control of their blood sugar levels.

She highlighted the “phenomenal” FreeStyle Libre, a wearable device that tracks blood glucose for Type 1 and Type 2 patients.

“It’s a revolutionary teaching tool,” she said.

Rather than having to draw blood for a spot check on sugar levels, the devices enable continuous monitoring of the body’s sugar levels after everything from eating a banana to going for a run.

“This technology has indeed been a phenomenal asset to us in diabetes management.”

Ms Bosch de Noya said the community still faced great challenges in overcoming chronic disease.

She added: “What we continue to need is education and community support.”

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Published July 21, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated July 21, 2021 at 9:00 am)

Diabetes cases jump as a result of pandemic

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