As today marks World Diabetes Day, Nigerians suffering from the health condition have lamented the rising cost of drugs in managing the disease and called for government’s support. Out of the estimated 366 million people living with diabetes globally, Nigeria is said to account for 5 percent of its population (representing 10 million) as currently living with the disease, according to experts.
Diabetes is a debilitating disease in which the insulin is either not adequate or poorly functional until one has excess of blood sugar which begins to destroy other tissues in the eyes, the brain, the skin, and all the blood vessels and the immune system is hindered in a negative way.
Diabetes Patients Lament
Mr. Yahaya Usman, who has been living with diabetes for the past 10 years said, accessing diabetic care is somehow tasking due to a lack of government policy on the disease similar to that on HIV/AIDS. He said, being diabetic requires one to visit the hospital once in a month depending on the state of the patient, adding that the cost of treatment is too much for an average Nigerian. “I spend over N 6,000 monthly on drugs outside meals because as a diabetic patient you may not eat every meal as you have to eat more vegetables and fruits,” Yusuf said. He pointed out that there is no special attention by the government both at the state and federal level on people living with diabetes similar to that given to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Another patient, Albert Gyang, also complained that diabetic treatment is expensive, saying: “One has to take a drug every day, and my house is full of cartons of the drugs. By and large, I spend N18, 000 – N20, 000 monthly on treatment.” According to him the availability of diabetes treatment specialists in Plateau State is scarce which is why every other doctor is moving into the system, thereby ‘‘administering the wrong medication on patients’’.
Recounting his ordeal, he said he collapsed one day in 2010 and was diagnosed with diabetes, but that when he started taking the treatment he was doing fine until another doctor who stood in for his initial doctor told him that he did not have diabetes. “That doctor who stood in for my initial doctor complicated my problem because I had to drop my drugs until after three years when I collapsed and it was discovered that I was diabetic. So, it is better one goes to a specialist rather than any doctor’’, he said.
On whether he has tried traditional medicine, he said, “I don’t go near traditional medicine any longer; I have refused to listen to advice to do so. I even have a plant in my house that they said I should be preparing and taking every morning and evening but whenever I take it I develop typhoid.” Mr. Sam Eferaro, who has suffered from diabetes for over 20 years, said diabetes management is almost beyond the reach of many Nigerians. “Apart from drugs, you need a healthy lifestyle – nutritious food (with less carbohydrate), physical activities, etc. Many people with diabetes also have other conditions such as hypertension which must also be adequately managed.
For me, I have to buy insulin (N2,500) twice a month in addition to oral drugs. I also have to buy blood pressure drugs as I have been managing hypertension for almost 20 years now,” he said. He said many private hospitals lack the expertise to really care for diabetes patients, adding that they still lack awareness among several health workers about diabetes. Mr. Eferaro urged government to provide support by allowing drugs and monitoring devices to come into the country at zero tariffs. Patients in Rivers State spoken with also say that management and treatment of diabetes comes with high cost which they find difficult to cope with.
Another patient, Jaka Abum, while narrating his experience said, he started having unusual urination as he woke up more than 8 times in the night to pass out urine. “This excessive urination was what led me to the hospital where I was diagnosed of type 2 diabetes. Since then, I have been on a special diet and drugs which is not pocket-friendly.” Album said that he is on a special diet of non-sugar meals such as unripe plantain, beans, protein, fruits, vegetables, and drugs to manage the disease, adding that he spent between N50, 000 to N60, 000 every month to manage the disease.
For Mrs. Agels Oforima, diabetes disease has cost his family a fortune. The 68-years old Oforima, who was diagnosed of diabetes in 2014 relies on drugs and special dieting to control and manage the decease. She also spends an average of N40, 000 every month to manage diabetics. In Plateau State, It was learnt that the number of diabetic patients is rising because of the increasing number of people attended to weekly and also the calls/referrals of patients from other clinics to the Endocrinologists.
An Endocrinologist and a consultant with the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) who spoke to our correspondent, Dr. Odoh Gabriel said, only four of them specialize in the treatment of diabetes in Plateau State, explaining that it is becoming difficult for them to exclusively handle the increasing number of patients with the condition in the state. Dr. Gabriel said: “There is no current statistics of diabetic patients in Plateau State except for estimates or projection because for one to have statistics there must be a formal study,” adding that in JUTH they attend to an average of 100 to 150 weekly and an average of 20 to 25 new cases weekly.
In Kano State, cases of diabetes are on the increase, according to the Diabetes Association of Nigeria Kano branch. Secretary-General of Endocrine and Metabolism Society of Nigeria (EMSON) and a specialist on diabetes, Professor Andrew Uloko, said though indices have shown the prevalence of the disease, there were no specific statistics on the number of people living with diabetes in the state. However, the specialist added that an inside survey conducted by the association had revealed that about 3 to 4% of Kano population are living with diabetes.
He said there was a need for adequate specialists to manage the disease, stressing that as a consultant diabetes specialist, he records about 10-15 new cases every week. “It is very expensive to manage the disease as most of the medications are being imported. It is not affordable to an average Nigerian living with the condition. Affordability and availability of the medications are major issues that need to be looked into by authorities in easing the suffering of people living with diabetes,” he said.
Medical experts speak The Chief Consultant Physician, Gwarimpa General Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Ndubuisi Onuoha, said the number of people suffering diabetes is increasing at a high rate, adding that 10 years ago, statistics showed that 2.5 per cent of Nigerians were living with diabetes and today, Nigeria has about 5 per cent of its population living with diabetes. “You can see that it is has increased at about 100 percent within 10 years, “he said. The consultant said, there is no way to overcome diabetes if the country does not educate the people on lifestyles. “Diabetes is a very morbid disease, comparing a person who is diabetic and a person who has hypertension, the hypertensive person will probably die earlier before the diabetic patient but the diabetic patient will need to visit the hospital more often than the hypertensive patient,” he said. He said the government needs to step up in this area of health, adding that for now, the government is behaving as if they are not aware of diabetes, because ‘‘there is no effort that you see on TV, radio and other medium sensitizing and educating people to change lifestyles.
The diabetes Desk Officer, Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Dr. Alayo Sopekan, said, the number of people living with the condition worldwide is increasing due to globalization and lifestyle changes. Dr. Alayo said everyone is at risk of developing diabetes, especially Type 2 due to reasons related to lifestyle changes and globalization.
The National President of Diabetes Association of Nigeria, Dr Alkali Mohammed, said an estimated 9 million people are living with diabetes in Nigeria while up to two-third are not aware they have the disease. He said there is no much government support compared to the magnitude of the problem, adding that there is the absence of a National Diabetes Center that can address all aspects of the disease, particularly major complications that will reverse medical tourism, “There is weak primary health care system to handle diabetes, lack of a robust health education, screenings and prevention policies and program to prevent at-risk population as well as identify un-diagnosed cases,” he said. Speaking on the way forward, Dr. Alkali, who is the Chief Medical Director of Abubakar Tarawa Balewa Teaching Hospital (ATBUTH) stressed the need for implementation of a comprehensive awareness, screening and prevention programme by all tiers of government.