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12th July 1998

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A helpline for the diabetic

By Upali Salgado

At the National Diabetic Centre, Sarana Road, Rajagiriya, two elderly persons in conversation were heard to say: "When Adam gave Eve the forbidden apple which must have been extra sweet, Eve would have been the world's first Diabetic patient.

Perhaps it was thought so because Diabetes can be hereditary. Diabetes is an age old (non infectious) disease, which was known to the Egyptian Papyrus Ebers in about 1500 B.C. Celsus (30 BC-50 AD) recognised the disease and two centuries later a Greek physician Aerates gave it the name Diabetes.

In the third and fourth centuries A.D. scholars in China and Japan wrote about the disease, and said the urine was "sweet and sticky". In the 19th century several scientists, the German born Joseph Von Mering (1849-1908), Oscar Minkoweki (1858-1931) put the pancreatic factor to test. Fredrick Banting and Charles Best for the first time in 1921, administered Insulin which prolonged life.

Local interest in Diabetes was aroused in the period prior to 1980 when Drs. J.R. Wilson, Nimalasuriya, Lionel, and a few others formed the Ceylon Diabetic Association. Despite lack of funds and a House (Centre) they were able to create a public awareness of the disease.

Later, in about 1985 the scope of the activities of the Association were widened. Dr. U.S. Jayawickrema MD. FRCP (Patron of the Association) in a message published in the first Newsletter said, "a great need was felt for the establishment of a centre of excellence, which would foster not only the education but also research and out-patients' activities to support the needs of patients. In recognition of our work the government of Sri Lanka graciously made available a plot of land at Rajagiriya, for this purpose."

Further the Association received recognition by Parliament also with the Department of Social Services, and approval for donations to be Income Tax free. The Canadian people through the Canada Development Fund gave this Association a generous donation to underwrite the entire cost of the Diabetic Centre Building, whilst The Lions Club of Thimbirigasyaya made a significant contribution. The Sir Frank Gunasekera Trust has been the single largest donor of funds. This grant has given this Association a financial base.

There have been a large number of smaller individual donors, and the corporate sector has also pitched in. The centre is today fully equipped to undertake medical examinations and has two doctors in attendance daily, in addition to supportive trained laboratory/clinic hands. A large auditorium makes it possible to have lectures and audio visual education programmes. Research on Diabetes is also conducted periodically.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus is a common disease which even small children could suffer from; but it usually afflicts these over forty years of age who lead sedentary lifestyles. TV addicts can suffer from diabetes as they grow older. It is caused in one's system by a lack of biologically active Insulin, a hormone secreted by a gland called the "Pancreas." Without insulin, the body cannot absorb sugar in food.

Long term diabetes is associated with blood vessel degeneration. Patients who have diabetes can suffer from cataract,blindness impairment of vision,kidney failure, neuritis, ulcers of the feet etc. Loss of weight, excessive thirst and hunger are symptoms of the disease. This can be clinically looked into by examination of one's urine and blood.

It is believed that in Sri Lanka, which has a population of 18 million, about 2.25 million people suffer from diabetes. Only 50 percent of them are aware of having the disease! The treatment for Diabetes is a specialised field requiring periodic clinic tests, dietary control of food intake and regular exercise.

The Diabetes Centre at Rajagiriya provides a complete package of tests which include tests for Cholesterol, E.C.G., Eye Examination, Fasting Blood Sugar and a Urine full report.

The future

Dr. Mahen Wijesuriya, MD, one of the medical specialists who direct the activities of the medical centre says, they need to upgrade their equipment. This would enable thousands of patients to have a healthier lifestyles.

He is therefore appealing to all Sri Lankans, corporate bodies, trust funds and other agencies for generous financial assistance, to create a "Fund" that would assist in the purchase of high quality insulin for pregnant mothers and children. This particular make of insulin is very costly.

A WHO bulletin states that, Diabetes is the fourth largest cause of death in many Asian countries. There are over 150 million people who suffer from diabetes.

Dr. Wijesuriya believes that the disease is prevalent to an extent of about 2 percent of our rural population, but there is a significant rise to about 5 to 10 percent in the urban areas, and a further 10 percent at least amongst foreign job migrants. Diabetes is the most common cause of amputation of limbs in developed nations.

As meaningful steps have been taken during the past fifteen years, the WHO gives the Diabetic Association an annual grant through the Ministry of Health.

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