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Health and wellness

Low-income diabetic children reusing old needles

Poll reveals families try to save money by repeatedly using disposable needles, heightening risk of medical complications

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 4:12pm

Some diabetic children from low-income Hong Kong families repeatedly use disposable needles when testing their blood sugar levels because they struggle to afford spending HK$2,000 on medical examinations every month, a concern group has found.

Such recurrent use would heighten the risk of blood infection for the young patients, while poor management of glucose levels could lead to serious complications such as organ damage, the Youth Diabetes Action warned.

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The social services group urged the government to subsidise the medical costs borne by low-income families for the tests. Children born with type 1 diabetes – a metabolic disorder that leads to high blood-sugar levels – must take the tests daily throughout their lives.

Group chairwoman Dr Fina Cheng said it proposed last year that the Food and Health Bureau, Home Affairs Department, and the Community Care Fund take action and help subsidise the costs. But she said all three bodies rejected its suggestion, despite comparable funding being made available in Britain, Australia and India.

We are very disappointed by the government’s short-sightedness
Fina Cheng, Youth Diabetes Action

“We are very disappointed by the government’s short-sightedness,” Cheng said on Tuesday, which marked World Diabetes Day.

“If the government helped these children manage their situation, it would lower the chances of them developing more serious conditions in the future and cut down on their medical costs.”

Last month, the group polled 153 diabetic children and their parents. It found that about half spent HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 per month on a glucose meter and test strips for the test, while 25 per cent said they spent up to HK$5,000.

About 29 per cent said they cut down the number of blood tests or reduced their use of strips or needles to save money. Some even claimed they used the same needle repeatedly for weeks.

Paediatrician Dr Cheung Pik-to expressed shock over such practices and warned that the repeated use of needles put children at an increased risk of blood infection. Cheung stressed it was important for diabetics to have their blood-sugar level tested at least four times daily to prevent complications from the disease.

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Lilac Fu, whose 10-year-old daughter was born with type 1 diabetes, said it was difficult for her family to spend between HK$1,700 and HK$2,500 per month on the tests.

“The burden on my family is huge,” the mother said. Fu’s family earns about HK$20,000 per month, but spends HK$11,000 on rent. “I know some parents use the same needle repeatedly, but I’d rather save up on meals and other costs than compromise my daughter’s health.”

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Fu said she saved money by buying discounted food from the market and withdrew her daughter from a drawing class that the girl was eager to attend.

Diabetes affects one in 10 people in Hong Kong, according to the Department of Health. At present, there are about 400 patients in the city aged 18 or below who were born with type 1 diabetes.