Health centre battling a diabetes time bomb

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am

Community campaign targets 7,500 patients

Diabetes is becoming one of the most common diseases in Hong Kong, with the World Health Organisation recently predicting there will be 1.2 million sufferers in the city by 2025.

This would make Hong Kong among the 10 most afflicted areas in the world.

The situation is already alarming, with one in 10 people affected by the disease.

Experts attribute the surge to the unhealthy lives of city dwellers, who increasingly opt for high-calorie fast food and do less physical exercise.

People with diabetes cannot make enough insulin to transform blood sugar into energy or their bodies do not use the insulin they make, resulting in the build-up of sugar in the bloodstream.

The chronic disease, known as a 'silent killer', can lead to a variety of complications.

Two of the most common yet serious problems are blindness caused by damage to blood vessels in the retina, and poor circulation and sensation loss in the feet, which in the worst cases can lead to amputation.

Apart from causing huge pain to patients, it cuts into the government's medical resources.

Helping diabetes patients to reduce the risk of suffering these two major complications is the aim of the United Christian Nethersole Community Health Service, one of the beneficiaries of Operation Santa Claus this year.

The community health centre hopes to introduce proper equipment to provide regular eye screening and foot examinations for the 7,500 diabetes patients in East Kowloon.

The service is expected to detect pathological changes in patients' eyes and feet at an early stage and prevent blindness and disability.

Choi Wai-keung, medical officer of the centre, says early intervention is crucial because diabetes patients are often unaware they are developing complications.

'Some patients do not know there are problems with their eyes until one day their sight suddenly worsens,' Dr Choi says.

'It is also a long and hard-to-detect process when the feet lose the sensation to outside stimulation. It means they will not have enough protective reaction when their feet get hurt.'

The doctor remembers the case of a minibus driver with diabetes he treated years ago.

'When the driver came to see me, he said he could not feel the brake when driving, and he could not tell how deep he should jam on the brake on some occasions, which had posed a threat to the safety of him and his passengers.'

An examination found the driver's nerves in his feet and vascular system were so weak that little could be done to help the patient recover his sensation. 'The driver ended up giving up his job and could not drive anymore.'

The health centre will install a retinal camera at its branch in Kwun Tong. Diabetes patients will be encouraged to have annual eye tests, in which doctors will examine retinal photos of patients.

A Doppler machine and urine analyser will also be introduced to assess blood circulation in the feet and provide early kidney diagnosis.

In the event of irregularities, patients will be referred to specialists for further treatment.

Wish list

Wish: To prevent blindness and disability among diabetes sufferers by providing regular eye and foot examination for patients in the East Kowloon community.

Money needed: HK$176,510