Patients struggle to access quality diabetes care

Owen Nyaka, CNS Correspondent, Malawi
Diabetes in Malawi seems to be nobody’s baby. Speaking from personal experience, Mariam Ladi, a diabetes patient and a Diabetes Club leader at Kawale Township in Lilongwe, rues that people who suffer from diabetes related complications, such as kidney failure, are often unable to access proper treatment due to the prohibitive costs involved.

“On an average, a patient on dialysis spends US$92 in one session and US$740 in a month for using a kidney dialysis machine. The huge costs involved restrict their access to many patients in need. Moreover, in all the three major central hospitals in Malawi, these machines are in very poor state and frequently malfunction”, she says.

“Moreover, most medical doctors fail to provide quality counseling to patients due to poor attitudes and shortages of health care workers. Hence we have formed diabetes clubs that are now bridging the gap by giving patients the education and counseling required.”

“There are few health workers who are trained and capable of tackling diabetes. I do not like the habit of some health workers who rush to prescribe drugs without checking the patient adequately. The Ministry of Health must take action to address the challenges because it is derailing quality of care to patients".

With financial assistance from World Diabetes Foundation (WDF), and with partners that include the Ministry of Health, College of Medicine and the Diabetes Association of Malawi, the Journalists Association against AIDS (JournAIDS Malawi), is trying to raise awareness amongst people living with diabetes, non-governmental organization (NGOs), policy/decision makers and the government, through a project called, ‘Popularizing Advocacy to Primary Diabetes Prevention’.

As a part of this project, JournAIDS recently organized a training workshop for local journalists with the aim of strengthening capacity of the media to enhance reporting on diabetes and Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), as many journalists have little knowledge about diabetes and its related complications.

During the workshop it was observed that in the past most patients would struggle even for the simple act of having their blood sugar levels assessed, as the only option was to take their blood samples to the concerned laboratory. But with the coming of glucometers, patients now at least have an easy access to check blood sugar levels.

JournAIDS, Programme Manager, Dingaan Mithi informed that the workshop oriented the media around common diabetes related complications that patients encounter, such as diabetes retinopathy (eye disabling complications), kidney failure, foot complications, stroke, impotence and heart problems. The participants were also trained on diabetes foot care and management, using a presentation adopted from College of Medicine.

Raising awareness in the media on diabetes and its debilitating effects on other body organs is critical to inform the population to make informed decisions on diabetes care, treatment and prevention so as to avoid complications arising out of diabetes, including the dreaded diabetic foot. All this is very important in the implementation of the National Action Plan on management and control of NCDs 2013 – 2018.

“The media is urged to give more coverage to these issues to raise awareness in the public and government with a view to strengthen investment in diabetes prevention. According to the World Health Organization early diagnosis is cost-effective and can reduce 80% of the complications, and if the media understands this, it would be another critical aspect,” said Mithi.

It was observed that most central hospitals are failing to record data, which makes it difficult to know numbers of patients with diabetes. JournAIDS Executive Director, Christopher Bauti said that the media noted that credible Malawi research data was hugely missing. This lack of data and relevant information proves to be a challenge and derails diabetes reporting in the media, as journalists are unable to generate coverage that shows new evidence that is vital to shape policy dialogue and policy formulation in addressing the growing NCD burden.

The training also disseminated the 2011-2021 Global Diabetes Plan of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) as an important policy framework on diabetes. Other policy frameworks shared during the media training include the 2011 Global Political Declaration on NCDs and aspects from 2011 – 2016 Health Sector Strategic Plans.

The local media has been encouraged to scale up reporting on the critical policy frameworks because it is vital to inform policy and decision makers to improve quality of care on NCDs, including diabetes, and related complications. This is important for the implementation of the National Action Plan on management and control of NCDs 2013 – 2018.

Ladi felt that the need to link the media to the chain of service delivery is critical to enable them have a good understanding and knowledge so that the reporting is evidence based, has high standards and gives a human face to this medical issue. “I am urging the media to give huge coverage to patients’ rights and the level of care needed, including the complications associated with chronic diseases”, said Ladi.

Owen Nyaka, Citizen News Service - CNS 
17 February 2015