Keeping condition secret makes it worse, say doctors
by NADEEM BADSHAH
YOUNG British Asians with diabetes are hiding their condition due to fears that they will not receive any marriage proposals, a leading doctor has revealed. Dr Mahendra Patel, CEO of the South Asian Health Foundation (SAHF), told Eastern Eye there is a stigma towards insulin pumps to manage the disease, which leads to sufferers keeping it secret and risk making their condition worse.
The organisation is hosting a two-day conference on October 12 in Birmingham on “Diabetes Care for South Asians” focusing on treatments like pump therapy, prevention and managing the condition. South Asians are around six times more likely to get type 2 diabetes than other groups and make up nearly one in 10 cases.
Dr Patel, a fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said attitudes need to be changed towards the condition and insulin pumps which help to balance blood sugar levels.
He told Eastern Eye : “In some groups, if a patient had diabetes, they don’t let their family members know because they think it’s frowned upon.
“Or if a young boy is insulin dependent, they keep that quiet away from the larger community which impairs the treatment pattern.
“There’s a stigma being on insulin. For a younger audience, there’s a perception they may not be as desirable when it comes to getting married.”
Dr Patel added: “A senior member of the family on insulin, the mum within the household, may be thinking I want to keep this away from my husband in case it’s frowned upon.
“The benefits of pump therapy need to be [promoted], it’s not the old-fashioned needle. Insulin therapy is much more advanced.”
The SAHF conference will also cover the risks of suffering a stroke and having a limb removed due to diabetes as well as “cultural competencies in care” in health workers understanding the differences between Asian communities.
Dr Patel said: “Understanding cultural barriers is a key thing. Cultural issues – if you don’t understand them properly – you have a bigger barrier.
“For example, look at Bangladeshi populations. There are more people chewing betel nut and paan and tobacco in deprived areas; smoking is also higher in such places.
“In Indian groups, you can pitch treatments in a different way – one size doesn’t fit all. In gurdwaras and mosques, genders may be sitting sepa rate, in other community groups you could have a mixed audience.
“Among the Muslim contingency with diabetes, fasting can be a big problem, understanding how to engage that. Getting imams and the hierarchy involved in education programmes. Indian groups who fast as well, some people fast for 24 hours.”
Around four million Britons are living with type 2 diabetes, which makes up six per cent of the population, and is expected to reach over five million by 2025.
It comes after scientists discovered a new test to spot the early signs of diabetes. A team from the University of Glasgow identified a form of proteins and molecules called “micro-RNAs” which act as predictors of the disease.
Dr Kailash Chand, a former GP and the current vice-president of the British Medical Association, said Asians are risking their health by not telling family members. He told Eastern Eye : “In the South Asian community, there is considerable stigma regarding a diagnosis of diabetes and many patients may not wish to tell others about their diagnosis.
“Therefore, poor compliance with treatment and denial are potential problems. South Asian patients would benefit from health professionals giving them tailored advice that highlights the long-term consequences of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“Educating that the body is like a machine and could develop faults due to numerous reasons which needs rectifying. They need explaining that interventions with lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, diet, and exercise, and medications can prevent and delay the onset of diabetes and its complications.”
Meanwhile, Dr Patel is spearheading a fundraising campaign involving charities including the SAHF, the British Heart Foundation, the Mouth Cancer Foundation, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Benevolent Fund and children’s charity NSPCC. It encourages Britons to give £1. He said: “It’s a campaign that touches a lot of issues that I have been involved with, the risks south Asian population have regarding their lifestyle, dietary, doing more physical activity.
“Also the prevalence of mouth cancer particularly within the Bangladeshi community due to the high number who chew tobacco. Engagement comes through education.”
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