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‘Empowerment’ as a complementary approach to tackling diabetes

Diabetes management is an ongoing journey that affects not just the body but also the mind, and while conventional treatments primarily revolve around medication and lifestyle adjustments, there is a growing recognition that holistic approaches can play a pivotal role in comprehensive diabetes care.

Among these approaches, empowerment stands out as a powerful and transformative tool, offering individuals with diabetes a unique path to navigate the intricate web of emotions and challenges that accompany their condition.

Eric Omondi, a dedicated project officer at the Kenya Diabetes Management and Information Centre (DMI), sheds light on the challenges and possible solutions in managing diabetes. In a recent conversation, Omondi emphasized the importance of complementary approaches, the lack of awareness about them locally, and the pivotal role of empowerment in diabetes management.

“Complementary approaches to managing diabetes are a great idea, but locally, we have no idea of their existence,” says Omondi. “I think the issue has been that we have been struggling with the main treatment because access to diagnosis and healthcare has been a problem. In the last two or three years, the theme worldwide has been access to diabetes care which ends this year.”

While diabetes care has improved globally, Kenya still faces significant challenges. Omondi believes that complementary approaches if implemented effectively, could be a game-changer in the last leg of this global campaign. He states, “Coming up with complementary approaches will be a good thing, hoping that in the last three years, something has happened.”

“One thing, however, that would qualify as a complementary approach in my opinion is empowerment. From the individual setup to the community, empowerment plays a very big role in general diabetes management,” Omondi stresses.

For years, DMI has been at the forefront of creating awareness about diabetes. Their efforts include educating people about what diabetes is, the importance of screenings, and the necessity of treatment. Over time, this awareness-building led to a surge in the number of individuals seeking diabetes diagnosis and treatment. Omondi notes, “We got partners who helped to improve access to diabetes diagnosis and treatment, especially for children.”

However, despite the increased awareness, the challenges persist. “Diabetes is one of the lifelong conditions that is not well covered by the government,” Omondi points out. “Some counties are covering diabetes healthcare and treatment, but others don’t. And even those that cover don’t have the necessary support to consistently provide such care. It’s on and off and depends on the season.”

Inadequate support from political leaders and experts in the field has exacerbated the situation. The high prevalence of diabetes diagnoses is a growing concern. Omondi remarks, “We know very well that NHIF is covering dialysis even up to thrice a week. That’s very expensive for one person, especially knowing that diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.”

Another major issue facing Kenya’s diabetes management is the lack of comprehensive data. Omondi explains, “The other issue we face as a country when it comes to diabetes diagnosis and management is data. Without the proper data to plan, advocate, and mobilize, many people end up suffering. Every county has its own system, meaning there is no centralized collection of this data. This makes it difficult to keep up. We don’t have the correct data due to that disparity, but we’re seeing large numbers.”

One alarming statistic is that in Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 percent of diabetes cases, 50 percent of the total accounts for people who are undiagnosed in Kenya, according to Omondi. Many individuals are unknowingly living with this condition because the symptoms develop slowly. They only realize it when it’s too late.

In an effort to bridge these gaps and improve diabetes management, DMI is actively involved in enrolling those seeking access to healthcare. Currently, they operate in 37 counties, aiming to make healthcare more accessible to those in need.