Blacks between the ages of 64 and 74 have a one in four chance of developing diabetes and more than two million Canadians have the disease that, if not treated or effectively managed, can result in a number of complications.
Dr. Everton Nicholas, head of the Toronto East General Hospital Endocrinology & Metabolism unit, said the most disturbing aspect about diabetes is that many people are unaware they have the disease that kills at least one million people worldwide each year.
“If you were an Army general going into battle, wouldn’t you like to know as much as possible about the enemy?” Nicholas asked participants at the first Black Diabetes Expo last Saturday at the Jamaican Canadian Centre (JCA).
The overwhelming response from the packed audience, many of whom suffer from the disease, was that they would.
“You need to know what you are up against because diabetes is a chronic disease that leads to complications such as heart, kidney and eye disease, impotence and nerve damage,” Nicholas said. “Every five seconds, someone in the world is diagnosed with diabetes and it’s projected that by 2025, about 400 million people worldwide would have diabetes. By 2025, diabetes in Canada is expected to affect close to 10 per cent of the population.”
Nicholas said some of the signs and symptoms of diabetes include unusual thirst, frequent urination, fluctuating weight, extreme fatigue and listlessness, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections, tingling and numbness in the hands or feet, cuts and bruises that take long to heal and trouble getting or maintaining an erection.
“If your blood sugar is high, you are going to get thirsty and you will go the washroom a lot,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle so get your blood sugar checked.”
Jamaican-born registered nurse Kathy Nelson founded the Caribbean chapter of the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) 11 years ago after Type 2 diabetes killed her parents. Five of her nine siblings and one of her two daughters also suffer from the disease.
“I was very angry and I did not sleep for nights after my dad’s death because I felt I could have done something to help save him,” said Nelson.
Nelson’s father died in a diabetic coma at age 80 in 1992 six years after his right leg was amputated. Her mother developed type 2 diabetes at age 86 and passed away nine years later while her daughter, who is now 48 and residing in Jamaica, was diagnosed 19 years ago.
Since establishing the Caribbean chapter, Nelson has staged a number of education and testing sessions in malls and shopping centres across the Greater Toronto Area.
She was overwhelmed by the exceptionally large turnout at last weekend’s expo.
“This is something we have been trying to do for a while because our community fits into one of the high-risk diabetes groups,” said Nelson who works at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Diabetes is a chronic progressive disease that is not easy to manage. Education is the key and that’s why I am so happy to see so many individuals from the Black community coming out here today to learn more about this silent disease.
“With a history of diabetes in my family, I have tried very hard not to get the disease. I walk a lot, I go on the treadmill for an hour four times weekly and I eat fruits, vegetables, chicken and fish. The first aisle I go to in the supermarket is the one with fruits and vegetables and then I work my way down. That’s how it should be done.”
The expo brought together products, resources, speakers and experts on subjects ranging from healthy eating and physical activity to medication management. A trade show, featuring 46 exhibitors, complemented the on-stage programming, showcasing free blood glucose testing and the opportunity to engage in one-on-one dialogue with healthcare professionals and other interactive features.
Registered dietitian Ava Morgan shared her nutrition expertise, diabetic Chef Selwyn Richards of The Art of Catering whipped up a delicious diabetic-friendly entrée, CDA Team Diabetes 2008 Barcelona marathon participant Malcolm Barrington, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1998, shared his inspirational story of living with the disease and certified clinical exercise specialist Christine Ford staged a fitness demonstration.
“There is a great need in the Black community for more awareness about the seriousness of this chronic disease and its scope,” said CDA regional director Andrea Strath. “We are excited to be able to offer this expo for the first time to this community, providing people with educational tools and resources to prevent and manage diabetes. We are also extremely grateful to the community for embracing and lending their support to make this event a great success.”
CDA development officer Lynrod Douglas promises the expo will be an annual affair.
“Our organization has identified five high-risk groups for developing type 2 diabetes and the Black community is one of them,” he said. “As a result, we have developed a diversity strategy to work with these communities through organizations like the JCA, which hosted the event, and the TAIBU Community Health Care Centre.”
A non-profit organization providing comprehensive primary health care and health promotion programs and services to Malvern residents, TAIBU – in partnership with Toronto’s public health department – delivers a diabetes prevention program that’s funded by the province’s Ministry of Health Promotion.
The pilot project is conducted in community centres, local churches and libraries.
The CDA provided a bus to transport Malvern-area residents to and from last weekend’s expo.