Kenya’s older activists campaign against diabetes

Christine Wanjiru, 65 lives in Nairobi and is diabetic.
Christine Wanjiru, 65 lives in Nairobi and is diabetic.

Kenya’s older activists matching through Nairobi streets on Thursday to mark the World Health Day urged the government to integrate care for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes at all healthcare centres.

Christine Wanjiru, 65 lives in Nairobi and is diabetic.
Christine Wanjiru, 65 lives in Nairobi and is diabetic.

Joining a global campaign calling for action against the increasing prevalence of diabetes through screening, testing, treatment and education, older activists said screening for chronic illness like would be an effective way to also identify and treat.

The actions by the older activists are part of HelpAge International’s Age Demands Action campaign (ADA)— a grassroots campaign challenging age discrimination in over 60 countries.

This year’s ADA has mobilised older campaigners in more than 50 countries to draw attention to the challenges they face. Without treatment, older people with diabetes are more at risk of developing complications and other non-communicable diseases than younger people.

“Diabetes has turned my life upside,” said Christine Wanjiru, 65 in Nairobi. In the last two years since she got diagnosed with the disease, Wanjiru has become too conscious that she cannot dare leave behind her insulin bottle. “Severally because of old age, I have forgotten to carry my bottle but with devastating consequences; it begins with loss of sense of where I am, the body becomes weak and I pass out. It takes those who know of my condition to revive me,” said but quickly complained of the high cost of the insulin.

Diabetes is one of the four major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), along with cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and chronic respiratory disease. Prevalence of diabetes increases with age in many countries. In China, diabetes is almost twice as common in people over 70 as it is those in their 50s.

While the Kenya government has a five year national strategy to tackle NCDs from 2014-19, but this is still in draft form. The strategy aims to raise the priority accorded to NCDs, promote healthy lifestyles and strengthen health systems among others.

For May Wanjiru, 80, a regular visit to a private healthcare guarantees quick attention and assured quality health care, thanks to support given her by her daughters. “I detested the delay and long queues I used to find at the public health facility near my home. I wish there was a separate room for the older persons with this kind of disease,” she said.

According to HelpAge International, people who age in better health can remain productive for longer, continuing to make significant contributions to their families and communities. There will be reduced need for family support and particularly for the emergency care which often causes financial as well as health crises in poor households.

The number of people living with diabetes has almost quadrupled since 1980 to 422 million adults, with most living in developing countries. Factors driving this dramatic rise include overweight and obesity, says a report by the World Health Organisation released ahead of the World Health Day.

Around 9 per cent of the world’s adults are thought to have diabetes[2] and, according to the World Health Organisation, it will be the seventh leading cause of death globally by 2030.

“An early diagnosis is crucial for preventing chronic health problems”, said Clare Woodford, Health Policy Advisor at HelpAge International. “It can take a while for symptoms to show themselves and when they do, people are often unaware of the implications or have difficulties accessing healthcare”.
“Regular exercise and a healthier diet, low in sugar and salt, can not only reduce the risk of someone developing diabetes, but also help manage and reduce the symptoms among those who have it”, said Woodford.

The WHO estimates that 1.5 million people died as a direct result of Type 2 diabetes in 2012 and more than 80 per cent of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted at the UN last September, commit member states to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’ and include a target on reducing mortality from NCDs. However, the extent to which older people are affected is still unclear.

“Much of the data on diabetes either ignores older people or doesn’t disaggregate by age”, said Toby Porter, Chief Executive Officer at HelpAge International. “For countries to monitor the progress of these commitments they need to gather comprehensive data on diabetes and other non-communicable diseases for people of all ages and to disaggregate this data by age and sex at a minimum”.

Dr Prafulla Mishra, Regional Director, HelpAge International said health is a key area of focus for the organiation in East, West and Central Africa. Our regional strategy focuses on strengthening the response to diabetes and other NCDs through engaging with partners such as the governments and through grassroot campaigns with the older persons.

Age Demands Action is. This year two new campaign partners in Liberia and Nigeria are joining ADA for the first time.

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