In 2008, whilst Veronica was working in a town called Kambia, she witnessed the death of a previously fit and healthy young man. He had developed type 1 diabetes and was in desperate need of insulin. There was no insulin available and he lapsed into a diabetic coma. She could not believe that someone died simply because insulin was not available.
Diabetes is a global concern, which many organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have highlighted as an evolving catastrophe. The number of cases of diabetes (type 2 diabetes) in sub-Saharan Africa is rising dramatically and the complications of this disease cause enormous human suffering and premature death.
In an attempt to address these issues, Dr Patrick Turay, Medical Director of the Holy Spirit Hospital (HSH) Makeni – with the support of HelpMadina – launched a diabetes speciality service in April 2013. The diabetes team is led by Matron Anne-Marie Koroma.
New cases of diabetes are being detected every week and the hospital now has hundreds of diabetes patients registered. There is huge concern and fear within the local community about diabetes and there is ignorance also with some believing that diabetes is caused by witchcraft.
A patient led diabetes association called MyDiabetes HSH Sierra Leone has been set up by the diabetes community to sensitise the general population about the symptoms and signs of diabetes. The diabetes association aims to provide advocacy for improved diabetes services in the country. This is supported by T1International.
The majority of patients have type 2 diabetes which typically presents in adulthood and can usually be effectively managed with education about lifestyle, diet and exercise combined with taking oral medication under supervision. Type 1 diabetes on the other hand, generally affects young people and is a non-preventable condition where the body can no longer produce insulin. These patients require insulin urgently and regularly in order to survive. Without insulin, death is inevitable.
Insulin has been available since 1922 and is classified as an essential drug by the WHO. However, there are no reliable supplies of insulin in the country, so the life expectancy for a person who develops type 1 diabetes in Sierra Leone is estimated to be less than a year.
We are indebted to a charity called Insulin for Life who now provide insulin for those who need it. It is wonderful to see our young patients surviving, attending school and flourishing thanks to the insulin that is given free of charge. HelpMadina also funds the provision of essential glucose testing strips to monitor blood sugar levels. This is assisted by the Makeni Trust fund.
We are extremely grateful to all the support received. Want to support this work? Donate here.