Looking after diabetics in Fiji challenging task for families

Published: 03rd Jun 2018

SUVA, June 3 ((Xinhua) — As a South Pacific Island nation with a population of more than 880,000, Fiji has the highest rate of diabetes fatalities in the world. Looking after diabetics can be challenging for the families across the nation.

According to the recent World Life Expectancy ranking on diabetes, Fiji has the highest rate of 187.9 per 100,000 deaths. It is even more alarming for Fijian men with the rate at 213.7 per 100,000 deaths. This means about 1,300 people suffer from diabetes-related deaths in Fiji every year.

According to Fiji’s Health Ministry, almost one in every three Fijians are now being diagnosed with diabetes, that is 30 percent of the population.

The International Diabetes Federation said recently that the prevalence of diabetes in Fijian adults was 15 percent last year and the proportion of undiagnosed cases last year was 53 percent.

Worldwide, diabetes caused 5.1 million deaths in 2013.

At the forefront of tackling this crisis is Diabetes Fiji. Its project manager, Viliame Qio said that their biggest challenge is that people with diabetes continue to deny their having the problem.

Fiji uses over 400 million Fijian dollars (about 191 million U.S. dollars) annually on noncommunicable diseases-related treatments. This includes money used to cater for the cost of three amputations conducted on average in a day for diabetics.

Looking after diabetic patients that have amputated legs is no easy feat, said Suliana Marama, an iTaukei caregiver in the Fijian capital city of Suva, who has been looking after her 56-year-old uncle for the past five years.

It was a tiring exercise to take care of her uncle Vaka Gaunaca, who had stroke and diabetics, but Marama refused to put him to a public facility as she feels it is an obligation to look after him, the lady told Xinhua in an interview recently.

Married with three children, she said it was challenging to look after diabetics confined to wheelchairs in Fiji as many did not know much about the disease and there were limited recreational facilities for the patients.

“Even catching taxis to take them to the health center or hospital can be a tiring exercise,”she said.

“These diabetic patients can be really moody and their moodiness sometimes causes stress and even abuse from those caretakers, who don’t really understand the disease.”

After years, Marama has started to understand his uncle’s behavior associated with sugar levels and she often has to pray for patience so as not to be affected by his frustrating behaviors.

Marama moved her uncle from the countryside to Suva to take better care of him.

She said that their village in Tailevu, one of the provinces of Fiji, lacked basic living facilities and villagers relied on tank water for drinking and cooking.

“He is on social welfare which is about 100 Fijian dollars a month (about 47 U.S. dollars) and that money helps us cater for his needs. While medicine is free, costs of taking him to and from the health center is quite overwhelming but we have to manage,” she said with a smile.

Marama’s is only one of the Fijian families feeling the brunt of the growing diabetic trend in the island nation.

As the International Diabetes Federation estimates, healthcare expenditure for diabetes in Fiji cost 24.4 million U.S. dollars in 2017 and that for a diabetes patient was 298 U.S. dollars last year.

Fiji needs to take a more proactive approach to tackle its diabetes crisis, those working with sufferers say.

Viliame Qio said that people were shying away from medical attention and treatment in early stages of the disease and when they did come forward with severe complications from their illness.

Many people turned to traditional healers for help first, which also delayed effective treatment, he said, adding that there needed to be more community education about diabetes.

“So we want to get people to be educated so that they seek medical attention first before they resort to other traditional methods or herbal methods,” said Qio.

He stressed that both education and early detection are vital to dealing with the crisis.

People in rural Fijian villagers have done away with eating fresh fish and seafood and now resort to tinned fish.

They have abandoned fresh vegetables and resort to noodles. The children are eating snacks instead of fresh fruits.

Also these families reserve their crops, catch from the sea and harvest from the plantations to sell in the markets while feeding their families with stuff bought from supermarkets.

“The very important thing is that you get screened and secondly you adopt a healthy lifestyle, especially the eating habits. Our diet has been transitioning from healthy food to very fast food and with this fast food comes a sedentary lifestyle,” he said.

“We need people to be very health cautious, to be mindful of what they eat and be physically active.”