It's never too late to tackle diabetes
For Dr Ronald Ma Ching-wan, the most frustrating part of treating diabetes patients is that they have already developed complications by the time they consult him.
'Diabetes has no symptoms,' said Ma, an associate professor at Chinese University's department of medicine and therapeutics, and president of Diabetes Hongkong.
'So by the time the patients realise they have health problems, they have already developed complications. They missed the opportunities of treating and controlling diabetes.'
Ten per cent of Hong Kong's population, or 700,000 people, has diabetes. The number is expected to rise to 1.2 million people by 2025.
Ma attributes the growing rate of diabetes to a population with more elderly people, unhealthier diets, more sedentary lifestyles and greater incidences of obesity.
Diabetes develops when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use insulin. It is one of the world's most common types of non-communicable diseases and accounts for 5 per cent of all health care expenditures, the majority of which result from complications, including visual impairment, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and nerve damage.
'Diabetes impacts the day-to-day life of the patients. It also has far-reaching impacts to society because of the medical expenses involved. So it is a health problem to individual patients and has significant implications to the finance of our health care system. It is also a global issue ... because there were 246 million diabetes patients worldwide, and the population will keep growing,' Ma said.
He said diabetes was preventable and its related complications were controllable. Because the disease had no symptoms, it was important to keep a healthful lifestyle and see the doctor for regular check-ups, he said.
Ma and his colleagues at Diabetes Hongkong have designed a programme that aims to raise awareness on the disease and provide timely assistance to patients and their family.
With the support of Operation Santa Claus, the programme, Living Well with Diabetes, consists of public talks, community education activities and counselling services. It aims to enhance the quality of care for diabetes patients and their families, and promote diabetes prevention.
'We will organise public talks to educate the public on preventing diabetes. There will be outreach activities at community and elderly centres where we will conduct body checks for the elderly.
'As I had said, diabetes has no symptoms, therefore, body checks are important.
'We will also run a hotline that provides psychological assistance to diabetes patients. Diabetes is a long-term battle. Taking care of their emotions and addressing their worries are important to help them fight the disease. We will have nurses whose speciality is treating diabetes to answer the hotline,' Ma said.
The charity estimates that about 12,000 people will benefit from this initiative.
Operation Santa Claus is the annual fund-raising campaign jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK. Since starting in 1988, it has supported more than 100 charities. Money raised this year will be used to support the work of 16 Hong Kong charities.
Diabetes Hongkong has been working on improving the quality of care for diabetes patients and their families since 1992. The organisation also runs awareness programmes and has more than 9,000 members.
'We hope, eventually, we can help the patients, their families and also reduce the human and economic costs of diabetes to the health care system,' Ma said.
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