AKRON, Pa. – Diabetes is a serious health threat to anyone, but it can be particularly devastating in places such as Webuye, Kenya, where many can’t afford equipment to test their blood sugar or medicine to control the condition.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is working with Moi University School of Medicine to provide education, regular testing and equipment, such as home glucose monitors and test strips to diabetic patients at Webuye diabetes clinic. An MCC-supported clinical officer coordinates diabetes care and a financial subsidy from MCC also helps patients there who are unable to afford insulin or oral diabetic medications.
It’s a timely effort: The rate of Type 2 diabetes in Kenya has increased dramatically over the last decade. Although this increase is partly linked to changes in lifestyle and eating habits, one Kenyan study indicates that malnutrition in childhood may play a key role in the development of diabetes, setting the stage for insulin resistance later in life.
“Diabetes has a different face and presentation in this setting compared to other parts of the world,” notes MCC worker Dr. Vic Buckwalter of Keezletown, Va., who works with Moi University’s diabetes program. He notes that in Kenya, diabetes tends to develop when patients are around 30 to 40 years old, and he notes most patients with diabetes at the clinic are not significantly overweight. Instead, they are often thin and active, and their cases are severe enough to require early and aggressive treatment with insulin.
The Webuye diabetes clinic, which is administered through Moi University’s program to train family medicine doctors, began in April 2009 and now has about 450 patients. “The numbers are increasing weekly,” Buckwalter said.
The program serves some of the poorest rural patients in western Kenya. The costs of treating diabetes may seem low – $6 U.S. enables a patient to monitor her or his glucose at home for a month and $25 subsidizes eight months of insulin therapy for a patient. But in a country where 60 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, these costs are often out of reach.
Hospitals and clinics have few ways to make up the difference. “Funding and support for chronic disease care has been extremely limited in sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of HIV-related diseases, for which the funding has not been as limited. The economic burden for patients with chronic disease continues to increase,” Buckwalter said.
As a result, many patients don’t get proper care or cannot afford their medications, increasing the frequency of hospitalizations and other diabetic complications, including kidney disease and eye problems. As their health worsens, they are less able to earn the money they need for medications.
The diabetes clinic focuses not only on treating the patients’ immediate symptoms but giving them tools so they can better care for their own health.
For example, Moses Barasa, a 46-year-old farmer and father of six in the village of Bukoli, had to travel throughout Kenya to find doctors or hospitals to provide care for the diabetes that he developed in 1998.
Since the medical clinic began in Webuye, Barasa has learned more about monitoring his condition. He now has options for more frequent follow-up visits and began using a home glucose monitoring system. If health problems arise, he is able to check his blood sugar, detect problems early and adjust his medication.
This has transformed his health and his life. Before, Barasa said his ill health contributed to the failure of his business. He was not able to educate his children nor did he have the energy to follow up and make decisions. With treatment, he now has the energy to work on his family farm.
This is one of MCC’s featured giving projects for 2011. Find this and other projects online at donate.mcc.org or by contacting your nearest MCC office to request a printed copy of “Giving Catalog 2011.”
Marla Pierson Lester is publications managing editor for Mennonite Central Committee.