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Managing Diabetes in the Virgin Islands

Diabetes is a major health issue for Americans, but it is especially a significant concern for Virgin Islanders. Although it is the fourth leading cause of death in the territory, research shows that 72.4 percent of those with the disease have never taken any type of course to teach them how to manage their diabetes.

Without any public health intervention, medical trends indicate that 26 percent, or more than one-quarter of all Virgin Islanders will have diabetes by age 65 and that nine out of ten aged 85+ will also suffer with the disease.

The territory’s children provide even more alarming statistics with the USVI having the highest rate of child diabetes throughout the Caribbean. Data indicates that VI children have as much as 3 and 4 times as many cases as other Caribbean islands. Local Health officials estimate that over 70 percent of the Virgin Islands are at risk for Diabetes due to their level of inactivity, nutritional habits and genetic predisposition.

In an effort to address these statistics, Senator Usie Richards, vice-chairman of the Health Committee of the 28th Legislature, convened representatives from the Department of Health, V.I. Medical Institute (the quality improvement organization) and other community organizations at the AARP-VI State Office as a planning group to put together a plan that would make a coordinated difference. By creating a support group for current diabetics, the group hopes to gain a degree of control over the existing diabetic complications. Such serious complications include amputations, blindness, strokes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular problems.

The Department of Health can only do so much. They are under staffed and under funded, so it is up to the citizenry to become active to bring about change.

Dedicated lay persons in the VI can be trained to provide diabetic courses. These courses, aimed at residents already suffering with the disease, won’t prevent new cases, but will empower current diabetics to take responsibility for managing their condition. By coaching diabetics, simple things like removal of shoes and socks when visiting the doctor will help them become an active partner in their ongoing health care regiment.

“There is a lot that needs to be done in both prevention and disease management. However, support for diabetics via a support group is one way that those with the disease can be helped on an ongoing basis to manage or completely avoid serious, life-threatening complications.” stated Senator Richards. By holding this meeting, Senator Richards brought significant “players” into the same room to work on a coordinated strategy for diabetic related activities. The group plans to include: the Lions Clubs, Disability Rights Center, Virgin Islands Medical Institute, University of the Virgin Islands, AARP Virgin Islands, Diabetic Advisory Council (DAC), but must also include representatives from the print and broadcast media, insurance companies like Cigna, retired nurses, EMT’s physicians and current government policy decision makers.

Senator Richards is a national officer with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and was appointed as NBCSL's representative to the American Diabetes Association's Diabetes Epidemic Action Council (DEAC). DEAC is made up of health experts and practitioners, community leaders and activists, and industry representatives who represent the interest of the African American community, as advocates of the American Diabetes Association.

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