Interview: Diabetes in Haiti

Interview: Diabetes in Haiti

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Widny Dorce is the Haitian representative of the International Diabetes Federation Young Leaders programme who will represent his country at the World Diabetes Congress in December. I met Widny through the Young Leaders online forum and he kindly agreed to take part in an interview about diabetes and Haiti. Widny talked about the Haitian Foundation of Diabetes, the organization he is part of that informs others about diabetes and offers screenings and other services. He also answered my questions about what it is like to live with Diabetes in Haiti and discussed problems that many people with diabetes are facing there.

Widny is determined to make life better for people with diabetes in Haiti. He says, ‘’As a Young Leader, I would like to promote prevention of diabetes, help to establish centers where people can find clear information, strengthen health systems to increase health care related to diabetes and, finally, shed light on the need to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.’’

Can you tell me a little about you and your background in regards to diabetes?

My name is Widny Dorce. I am a 23 year old Haitian diabetic. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 16. In 2008, I joined Fhadimac (Haitian Foundation of Diabetes and Cardio-vascular Diseases) so that I could be informed about diabetes. From 2010, as Awareness Agent, I have been helping Fhadimac to educate people on diabetes – to do screenings for them. I am also working in a Mobile Clinic where we do Radiographies for diabetics.

What are the general economic conditions in Haiti?

Haiti is a beautiful country. What is so beautiful about this country is the weather and the culture. Already considered as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line (54% of which are living in abject poverty), Haiti's economy suffered a severe setback when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed much of the capital city, Port-au-prince, in January 12, 2010.

Now, a legal minimum of 200 gourdes (about $4.5 US) a day is set as the salary of most workers in the formal sector of Haiti. That means people sometimes earn less than $100 US a month. Despite all the hardships, the people continue to hope that there will be a better future for Haiti.

Could you explain a bit about the healthcare system and medical facilities throughout the country, with a focus on diabetes care?

The healthcare system is working badly. Because Haiti is a poor country, there are more and more people who are developing diabetes. The medical facilities are difficult to find, because there isn't much that has been invested in the domain. Medication is expensive, so people can't afford that easily.

Has the situation changed since the earthquake in 2010?

I don’t think that much has been done in this case. But, if we consider the amount of diagnosed persons after the earthquake we can say many more people have been diagnosed. The stress the earthquake caused may have also contributed to many people being diagnosed with diabetes. A lot remains to be done to help those people!

What could you say is the biggest, or a few of the biggest, struggles faced by people with diabetes in Haiti?

First, it is a great problem to find appropriate food most of the time. Because of the economic challenges diabetics don't find money to buy the most important foods like fruits and vegetables. Secondly, access to insulin for the type 1 diabetics is another big problem. Insulin is very expensive and storing it is also. Finally, the type 1 diabetics need materials and supplies to control their blood sugar.

So people are often not able to afford or obtain the insulin and treatment that they need?

Of course. Non-access to insulin and supplies often results in death among the type 1 group. As I said before, getting access to insulin is one thing, storing it is another. Visits to the physician for medical supplies are also expensive.

What happens to people who cannot afford to visit the physician or who cannot access their insulin supply? Is there anywhere else for them to turn?

Sometimes the type 1 diabetics who can't afford their insulin and supply just turn to traditional medicines. They use tree bark, aloe, bitter coffee, and so on. Of course these cannot treat diabetes.

Can you discuss other factors that may help lead to more adequate care for people with diabetes?

Another factor may be teaching prevention of type 2 diabetes. We organize campaigns to inform the population, especially the young students in their schools, that can help them to see the importance of exercise, avoiding a sedentarily lifestyle and avoiding stress, no matter if they have type 1 or 2 diabetes. In the future they will benefit from that.

How can those of us outside the situation help make life better for people living with diabetes in Haiti?

While we continue to help Haitian diabetics by sharing with them what we know about the condition, those who are outside the situation can help us to find the facilities. What I mean is people can help us financially, help us to find medical supplies, and share experiences with us in regards to diabetes.

If there is one main message you would like to get across to other people with diabetes around the world in regards to diabetes in Haiti, what would it be?

As diabetes is an incurable disease, it is up to us to fight against it together so that people living with diabetes may have a better life. Haiti has a lot of problems, and there is a lot to be done to resolve them. I would say to all the diabetes community: if there is even one small thing that you can do to help Haiti in regards to diabetes, do it, and it would be welcome!

Thanks so very much to Widny, who has taken the time to answer my questions and shed some light on what it is like to live with diabetes in Haiti.

It is always awesome to see someone living with type 1 Diabetes working hard to inform others and raise awareness about diabetes, especially in difficult circumstances – and Widny is doing just that.

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