Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday diabetes mellitus is a devastating and costly non-communicable disease and is the fifth leading cause of death in The Bahamas.
“The prevalence of diabetes increased from 6.7 percent to 9.2 percent in 2005, and has now reached epidemic proportions at 13.6 percent in 2019,” Sands said at the Bahamas Podiatric Medical Association’s second annual International Podiatry Conference held at Meliá Nassau Beach resort.
“Our rate stands at 37.9 deaths per 100,000 persons due to diabetes.”
The health minister explained that every year, many persons with uncontrolled diabetes experience foot and ankle ailments and complications, sometimes losing at least a part of their lower limb.
“Globally, this means, a person is losing a lower limb every 20 seconds,” said Sands.
“This can be a source of added emotional suffering plus additional costs to the individual and the system that provides the necessary health care.”
He stated that prevention of foot ulcers is an important priority in podiatric medicine and for the diabetic patient. It is reported that 85 percent of all amputations are preceded by an ulcer and can thus be prevented.
“The chances of a person dying once they have contracted a diabetic foot ulcer or had an amputation jumps by almost 50 percent,” Sands said.
“This rate is much higher than for persons with prostate cancer, breast cancer and Hodgkin Lymphoma. With these statistics in mind, care for the diabetic patient is a team effort and requires a multidisciplinary approach.”
Sands said podiatry services were reinstated in the public sector one year ago. Since then, almost 700 patients were treated between the ages of three months to 98 years. Twenty-seven percent of the patients seen were diabetics.
He stated that of these diabetics, 60 percent were treated for a diabetic foot with ingrown toenails and wounds, and 40 percent had chronic venous ulcers, adding that there were 161 minor surgeries performed at the public clinics. The most common procedures performed were wound debridement and nail surgery.
“Procedures that could not be carried out at the clinic were referred to the Accident and Emergency Department of the Princess Margaret Hospital,” he said.
“Over 20 referrals were made which included limb threatening infections and other emergencies.”
Sands explained that research has proven that well-trained podiatrists positively impact the lives of patients by saving limbs, promoting and maintaining mobility, limiting lower extremity amputations and reducing healthcare costs.
“As true as this statement can be, the reality is, there is a severe shortage of podiatrists in the country,” he said.
“Currently four podiatrists are being shared between the public and private sectors.
“You can just imagine how stressed these professionals were in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian after seeing so many presenting themselves with foot and lower extremity injuries! This presented a clear challenge to the healthcare system.
“Despite the obvious shortage, I take this opportunity to commend the accomplishments of all podiatrists in The Bahamas, especially during the time of our most recent national crisis.”