8 August 2003

Ghana: Diabetes Slowly Killing Public Service Workers?

HUNDREDS OF employees especially those in the civil and public service are feared to be suffering slowly and consequently dying of diabetes due to failure to disclose their condition to their employers for fear of being stigmatize.

This worrying revelation, was made by the president of the Ghana diabetes Association, Dr. Kwamena Beecham, at the launching of this year's Diabetes Awareness Month, August 1st-31st. He said the theme for this year; "Diabetes at the Workplace" was chosen deliberately to throw the spotlight on the active young and middle-aged diabetics, who are working in the public service.

This is because they are the most productive age group that will work and generate wealth for themselves their families and the society and their output at work will have long-term negative impact on the economy as a result of absenteeism and low productivity.

"Diabetes should be a disease of concern to all of us because it affects all strata of society, and all need optimal care".

Dr. Beechem said a survey carried out on civil servants in 1999 showed that 7.8% were diagnosed as having diabetes with 85.1% showing evidence of early diabetes kidney disease and 53.2% were hypertensive.

Also a similar screening in 2002 at parliament showed that out of 342 personnel screened 5.95 %tested positive and 15, including nine parliamentarians responded as having diabetes.

He questioned service providers and insurance companies who drafted the Health Insurance Bill, why matters relating to hypertension and diabetes were not taken into consideration and challenged policy makers and insurance companies to submit their perspectives on matters concerning diabetes in the country.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Dr. Francis Ofei, a senior lecturer at the University of Ghana Medical School, said he appreciates the way the fight against HIV/AIDS has taken centre stage because of its mode of transmission.

However, he was concerned that the age-old diseases like diabetes and hypertension have been relegated and urged society to take a very serious look at diabetes because it is a silent killer that is killing without some of the sufferers knowing that they had the disease.

He said the issue of health insurance must be carefully considered to take into account the ceiling for allowances that sufferers of chronic diseases will be eligible for because, statistics from a number of countries show that diabetics visit hospitals for checkups, laboratory tests, and visit eye specialists about four times more than non diabetics.

"A single kidney dialysis that a patient has to undergo monthly at Korle- Bu hospital, costs ¢13 million, how much insurance should such categories be given? He asked. The insurance people must look at the bill more carefully.

Dr. Ofei stressed that the problem of diabetes must not be shied away from; there must be more public debate to make people aware of the disease and recognize the symptoms. "We should talk and make more noise about it, that way we will be able to influence government and policy makers to recognize the importance of the control of the disease, maintain a satisfactory metabolic state and minimize the onset and development of complications.

In a speech read on his behalf, the WHO representative in Ghana noted that a diabetic epidemic is underway with 6.8% of all adults above 25 years living in the country having the disease. He said diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic amputation of limbs at Korle-bu.

He also advised the general public to get to know the risk factors and also to take advantage of screening to enable each and every person know his or her status.

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