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Diabetes Society of Maldives - A lifeline for diabetic patients

Diabetes Society of Maldives (DSM) has been a pillar of support for people diagnosed with diabetes since its establishment in April 26, 2000. In the Maldives, which has a population 515,132, there are approximately 27,000 known cases of diabetes in adults.

Malika Shahid
23 May 2024, MVT 08:35
Blood glucose testing in a screening program -- Photo: DSM
Malika Shahid
23 May 2024, MVT 08:35

Diabetes Society of Maldives (DSM) has been a pillar of support for people diagnosed with diabetes since its establishment in April 26, 2000. Initially known as the Diabetic and Cancer Society of Maldives, the NGO has made significant strides in raising awareness, providing essential services to diabetic patients and advocating for better diabetes care in the Maldives.

DSM became a member of the International Diabetes Federation in 2003, a move which opened access to global expertise and resources further strengthening DSM’s initiatives. Over the years, DSM has been instrumental in educating the society through various community-based initiatives such as diabetes screening programmes, presentations, consultations and health education.

CEO and Chairperson of DSM Aishath Shiruhana (L) and Medical Director of DSM Dr Aminath Malha Saeed during the International Diabetes Federation Congress 2022 held in Lisbon, Portugal. -- Photo: DSM

According to the International Diabetes Federation, 537 million people around the globe live with diabetes. In the Maldives, which has a population 515,132 people, there are approximately 27,000 known cases of diabetes in adults as of 2021.

Speaking with The Edition, Medical Director of DSM Dr. Aminath Malha Saeed said that two thirds of patients with diabetes live in islands outside of the capital, Male’. This staggering number underscores the importance of DSM’s work reaching communities across the nation.

A key milestone in DSM’s 24 year history is its free clinic, established in 2004, providing essential medical services to diabetic patients. While diabetes management had been arduous in the past, the introduction of the Aasandha health scheme by the government in 2014 eased access to essential medication for such patients.

International support and programmes

Over the years, DSM has benefitted from the support of multiple international donors.

"Among these, “Life for a Child” (LFAC), an Australian charitable organization, is a consistent partner, which runs the “Save a Diabetic Child” programme," CEO and Chairperson of DSM Aishath Shiruhana noted.

She said that under this programme, DSM has provided glucose testing kits which include glucometers and testing supplies free of charge to individuals under the age of 25.

Diab-Maldives Youth Camp 2024: CEO of National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) and Chief Spokesperson at President's Office with participants of this year's camp. -- Photo: DSM

The DiabMaldives Youth Camp, a community-based initiative by DSM, supports and empowers youth living with Type-1 diabetes. The programme, aimed at youth between the ages of 13 and 25 was held in Haa Alif atoll Hoarafushi located in northernmost Maldives this year.

The 5 day camp, held from May 1 to May 5 saw a blend of physical activities and educational sessions designed to enhance the participants ability to cope with and self-manage their condition.

Providing a platform where young diabetics can learn and share their experiences together with others fosters a sense of camaraderie and belonging, especially in cases where there are few or no other patients diagnosed with the same condition in the participant’s residential island.

The skills and knowledge gained during the camp help participants manage their condition independently and reduce the risk of future complications.

Through these initiatives, DSM has touched the lives of many diabetic patients and their families, offering support and the resources to enhance diabetes care.

Participants of Diab-Maldives Youth Camp 2024 at Utheemu Ganduvaru at Haa Alif atoll Utheemu (the historic residence of Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu and other rulers of the Utheemu Dynasty) as a part of sight seeing event in the camp. -- Photo: DSM

Nationwide screening for lifestyle risk assessment

In 2022, DSM conducted a nationwide screening to assess diabetes and lifestyle risks in the Maldives. The screening, conducted over a period of three months from November 2022 to January 2023, collected over 10,000 samples from across all 188 inhabited islands.

The study included 10,717 participants above the age of 16, and revealed significant lifestyle risks that contribute to the prevalence of diabetes among different age groups.

Among the key lifestyle risks identified were lack of regular exercise, high consumption of sugary drinks, tobacco use, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, and high blood pressure. These factors contribute to the overall risk of developing diabetes, highlighting the need for lifestyle interventions and preventive measures.

The screening also assessed diabetes risk scores in participants with no known history of diabetes. A startling 76.6 percent of participants were found to be at risk, increasing significantly with age, from 13.6 percent in the 16-25 age group to 98.3 percent in participants between the ages of 46 and 55.

Dr Malha emphasized the importance of lifestyle changes in mitigating the risks of diabetes, especially among the youth. “Reducing the intake of sugary beverages and energy drinks and eating healthy meals rich in fruits and vegetable can significantly help people mange their health,” she added.

Activities from a screening program -- Photo: DSM

To address these challenges, DSM suggests strengthening the primary healthcare system and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) clinics, extending Aasandha coverage to allied health professionals such as dieticians, facilitating NCD prescription renewals following consultations, and expanding preventive healthcare services. Lifestyle intervention programs targeted at high-risk individuals are also crucial in preventing the onset of diabetes and other Non-Communicable Diseases.

Vulnerabilities during Covid lockdown

Restricted movement and transport disruptions during the Covid-19 lockdown significantly impacted the lives of people, especially those living in islands far aways from the capital.

Shedding light on the tumultuous time, Shiruhana said that routine check ups were delayed during the pandemic and the situation was further exacerbated due to medication and other essential diabetic supplies running out from the islands.

This inaccessibility was resolved in partnership with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) which helped DSM overcome the logistical challenge and transported essential medication to those in need, she said.

Diabetes remains a significant public health challenge in Maldives, with lifestyle factors playing a major role in its prevalence. While DSM has made significant progress in diabetes advocacy, continued efforts are required to strengthen healthcare systems, expand preventive measures and promote healthier lifestyles.

DSM urges the public, councils, government and private sector organizations to collaborate with them to organize screenings for early detection of diabetes, crucial for mitigating complications associated with the condition and improve overall health outcomes.