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Let’s not sugar-coat diabetes - Francis Zammit Dimech

Diabetes is a common chronic condition in the Maltese population, affecting both adults and children. It is associated with abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood. If left untreated, diabetes can cause serious complications and can eventually become life threatening. 

Malta has one of the highest occurrences of diabetes in Europe. A staggering 10 per cent of the Maltese population above 18 years are estimated to be living with this condition, which is expected to continue rising in all age groups. The International Diabetes Federation has estimated that in Malta there are more than 30,000 people confirmed to be affected by diabetes.

Another 8,000 adults are thought to be undiagnosed. These high numbers are of great concern to me especially since diabetes can have a significant impact on the quality of life of those affected.

A lot has been done over the years, be it from the medical angle, the voluntary sector and also by different administrations.  Yet, these figures indicate that the problem persists. In view of this, I have made it my mission as an MEP to be the voice of diabetics and to communicate the needs of patients, not just to the Maltese government but also to European policymakers.

Since being appointed co-chair of the EU Diabetes Working Group I have held meetings with various stakeholders, including patients affected with this disease. As a result, I have come to understand the necessities of diabetics. This is why over the past year I have made four appeals. If the Maltese government wants to take charge and make a significant impact towards the diabetic community, it should tackle four pressing issues.

Diabetes is not a death sentence. With the right approach and with vigorous government policies and strategies, we can reduce the incidence

During a conference on diabetes, which I co-hosted along with the Maltese Diabetes Association, under the auspices of the President of Malta, it emerged that one of the pressing needs is the provision of continuous glucose monitors. This will mean putting an end to having to draw blood several times a day.

I can imagine the relief it would bring to those parents of diabetic children who approached me with this particular concern. If these monitors are introduced, parents could finally start to see an immediate improvement in their quality of life, knowing that their child has one less distress to think about. 

However, I regret to say that after several appeals, the Minister of Health has yet to get behind this incentive, albeit reiterating that the government was undertaking market research. In my humble opinion, this is an excuse. The government should focus on taking action.

Incidentally, I am also informed that parents who seek to procure these monitors privately and at their own cost have to use contacts in the UK since the monitors are not directly available in Malta and this in its own right causes further suffering and discomfort.

And while we are waiting for the government to provide free continuous glucose monitors, I strongly appeal to the government to start providing 4mm pen needles at no charge. Why should parents resort to using 6mm pen needles to extract blood from their children, when 4mm pen needles are far less traumatising and when pae-diatrics have approved their use? 

The government should provide free needles to type II diabetics needed to prick their fingers in order to obtain blood to test the glucose level in their blood stream.

Needles have to be replaced each time after being used due to hygienic reasons and since they cause discomfort if used more than once. Diabetics should also be provided with a lancet kit, a device where patients put in the needles and use it to prick themselves with greater comfort.

Almost a year ago, the government and Opposition were reportedly in agreement over the setting up of a parliamentary committee on diabetes. Strangely enough, the Parliamentary Health Committee has so far not taken any decision on the matter. Once again I appeal to the Minister of Health to take action on this issue which is affecting the lives of so many citizens.

The government should invest more in research. Diabetes is costing the government and the people of Malta millions of euros each year, in medical costs and loss of productivity, among other reasons.  Investment in research is a long-term action to address this. At EU level, we are asking for more research funding to support effective efforts to prevent diabetes and treat patients.

Diabetes is not a death sentence. With the right approach and with vigorous government policies and strategies, we can reduce the incidence and offer hope of a better quality of life to those already affected.

Francis Zammit Dimech is a member of the European Parliament (PN, EPP Group).

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