On 11 November, I attended a capacity-building workshop organised by Sanofi Aventis Pharma Nigeria for health journalists from print and broadcast media, themed, “Equipping present-day journalists for effective reporting of diabetes.” According to Sanofi, the workshop was organised as part of the company’s activities to mark the 2017 World Diabetes Day.
When I first got the invite to be a participant at the workshop, I was not very enthused because the programme was scheduled for Saturday morning. Normally, I look forward to Saturdays. It is a day that I usually rest as I don’t have to wake up early as I do during the week to rush out to work in order to avoid the daily Lagos traffic.
However, because the workshop was on diabetes, I was curious about what new information I could pick up, especially because of an unfortunate incident that occurred few days before I got the invite. The incident was the unfortunate death of a young man, Mr Kunle (Not real name) in Oko-Oba, a suburb of Agege Lagos. The death was quite unfortunate because Mr Kunle did not die from a sickness, accident or from gunshot of armed robbers. Mr Kunle committed suicide. He actually locked himself in his apartment and hanged himself with a rope.
Mr Kunle, who had lost his wife few years back, lived alone and his death was only discovered when the person that usually came around to cook for him got to his apartment and realised that the door had been locked from inside. After banging the door repeatedly without a response, the door was forced open and, alas, Mr Kunle’s lifeless body was dangling from the rope tied to an iron in the ceiling! Of course, many wailed at the grisly sight, while others kept asking why a man in his prime would decide to take his own life.
I, however, learnt after speaking with some people who were close to him that Mr Kunle had been battling with diabetes for years, and that the disease had drained him financially and emotionally. Also, it was said that he had been having serious complications of late. I learnt he has had a bad leg injury that had refused to heal for months and that he had been in and out of hospital treating an eye problem. Indeed, it was said that few days before he committed suicide, he had returned from the clinic very sad and had lamented that his doctor had told him that there was nothing that could be done to save his eyesight. That was probably the last straw.
Unfortunately, while Mr Kunle was getting overwhelmed by the burden of the disease and thus needing to be treated for depression and counselled (in addition to the medical intervention he was getting for the diabetes), those around him and, perhaps even his physician, did not realise that until it was too late. Mr Kunle’s death will probably be listed as a suicide but the death should actually be attributed to diabetes.
It was this sad incident that somewhat stimulated my interest in the Sanofi diabetes workshop. Even though I had been a health journalist for several years and had penned a number of stories about the condition and actually thought I knew all there was to know, I was desirous of a fresh insight on how patients like Mr Kunle could be helped.
As it turned out my desire was more than sated by Dr Ifedayo Odeniyi, a consultant endocrinologist who made a very educative presentation on diabetes at the workshop to the array of health journalists present. Dr Odeniyi’s fresh perspective on diabetes made me realise that a lot can indeed be done, especially in terms of education to help people who are living with the condition, as well as their caregivers, loved ones and even the general public.
Dr Odeniyi elucidated on the many wrong but widely held myths concerning diabetes by not just journalists like me and ordinary Nigerians but by even some caregivers. Some of these misconceptions sometimes constitute serious barriers to ensuring that patients and caregivers are on the same page and thus work together to achieve desired and appropriate goals of diabetes treatment/management.
Top among the myths that the specialist dispelled is that which says that people living with diabetes need to be on a special diabetic diet. Dr Odeniyi stressed that what patients actually need is to embrace healthy eating habits and lifestyle modification and not just be restricted to some few tasteless foods that will make them lose interest in eating altogether.
He also flayed the stereotype that diabetes is caused by taking lots of sugary drinks and sweet foods, noting that genetics and immune system dysfunction play significant roles in the development of diabetes and not just the consumption of sugary substances.
Perhaps the most important take-home for me from the fantastic presentation of Dr Odeniyi is that diabetes management has to be individualised by caregivers. The era of generalising one simple instruction to all patients has long gone and caregivers in particular must jettison such haphazard treatment strategies.
Caregivers must also accept the new reality of multidisciplinary team treatment for diabetes management. Thus, patients should have access to not just their general practitioners care givers but also and when possible, an endocrinologist, a diabetes educator, nutritionist and other experts whose knowledge are invaluable to their treatment. More than anything else, though, early diagnosis is crucial for proper diabetes management. Nigerians should therefore regularly get screened for the condition.