Gabriela Allard
Director General
Mexican Diabetes Association
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View from the Top

Battling the Diabetes Epidemic

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 13:03

Q: In what way are trends in consumption habits influencing the prevalence of diabetes in Mexico?

A: The Mexican population is consuming more processed foods. Even with a balanced diet, most of the food we consume is processed or canned and contains large amounts of salt or sugar. As a society we are not looking after our health and this trend is not necessarily set by individuals but by our culture. The fight against diabetes is complicated. On one hand, we have to take responsibility for their own health. Diabetes is a chronic disease so, instead of visiting a physician only when showing symptoms, patients must learn that periodic doctor visits are required to manage the disease and prevent its progression. Our work with health professionals intends to provide comprehensive training in diabetes treatment. We currently have an education platform for online courses and we have 70 students who will be certified by Anahuac University.

Q: Do you educate patients on what foods they must avoid?

A: To ensure that healthy food is available for people living with diabetes in particular, we have a joint initiative with the Ministry of Health and Fundación Mídete called Restaurantes por la Salud. We contracted three chefs to create a healthy menu and each restaurant that affiliates with us will receive this menu and guidelines that they must provide to their clients. Right now we collaborate with 20 restaurants, with our ultimate goal being the inclusion of every restaurant in Mexico. We must also acknowledge that treatment should be much more multi-faceted and the solution lies not only in dietary stability. The health of each patient is influenced by several factors such as the evolution timeline of the disease, weight, insulin resistance, work and personal environments, and daily habits like smoking and exercise. While there are general nutrition guidelines, every patient requires an individualized treatment plan.

Q: Which associations are you directly working with?

A: We work with Fundación Mídete, Fundación Chespirito, and the National Human Rights Commission. Right now we only work within Mexico City but our goal is to expand our influence to other states through electronic means, such as capitalizing on our already strong Facebook presence. We are not allied with the Mexican Diabetes Federation (MDF). We perform similar work but they engage solely in education while we supplement education with treatment projects.

Q: Are you currently involved in any projects to provide medical services for diabetic patients? How do you finance these projects?

A: We are a nonprofit organization so our projects are funded through alliances and donations from third parties. For the past five or six years we have operated a clinic where patients can access medical services with diabetes specialists at a reduced cost. In 2014, we provided 7,500 medical consultations in total and we currently provide approximately 500 every month. We follow an interdisciplinary model where we offer patients all information they may require to educate themselves on managing their condition in the form of medical visits. We employ several doctors specialized in diabetes treatment, including internal medicine exeperts, odontologists, ophthalmologists, podiatrists, nutritionists, and psychologists These doctors are all experts on diabetes and they educate every patient they treat on how to manage this disease. We have a non mydriatic retinal camera to perform retinographies for patients with diabetes related eye problems.

Q: Do you have more alliances with companies in the private sector?

A: We have created alliances with several companies. We created the Feel Healthy program alongside the Secretary of Health, Dr Armando Ahued Ortega, and the General Director of Sports World, Fabián Bifaretti. We provide 100 grants to patients with obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. As part of the program, several doctors taught gym trainers on diabetes management and the proper treatments for individuals with high glucose levels. A psychologist supplemented this by training patients to exercise regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle, while a nutritionist taught the trainers the inherent differences in nutrition for a diabetic patient. This program is almost a year old and we are measuring our success through the high number of obese people who have lost a significant amount of weight, hypertensive people who have managed to control the condition, and diabetic patients who have managed to regulate their glucose levels with exercise. As part of our program, people living with diabetes are also provided with blood tests every three months to check their glucose levels. This is the first time that a sports center has provided facilities to a specific project designed for treating diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Sports World and the MDA are working in collaboration to ensure high quality for the patients, several of whom have ultimately chosen to affiliate with the sports club. We are also collaborating with Roche and, through this organization we provide a mobile unit that performs glucose test and provides information to the general public, as well as to the employees of several companies such as SXY JNS’s foundation Transfórmate and Alpura. We also have relationships with pharmaceutical companies such as Abbott, Bayer, and Novartis.

Q: Do you collaborate with food companies to promote healthier alternatives?

A: Many companies are releasing products for diabetics in an effort to exploit the large market of nine million people. However, some of these products provide no real benefits to those living with diabetes. Several companies that produce products for diabetics are interested in obtaining our endorsement as a marketing advantage, so we must closely monitor and guide companies through this process. Every submitted product is revised by a chemist, a doctor and a nutritionist to ensure that it is an ethical product, follows regulatory guidelines proposed by the FDA and COFEPRIS, and that it is low in fat, sugar and salt. When a product is endorsed by our association, the consumer can be certain that it is a quality product. One of the products we approved was Alpura’s DBT milk, which is low in fat and fortified with vitamins, with a formula created by Universidad Iberoamericana. All products endorsed by our association can be seen on our webpage.

Q: What is your strategy to continue to reduce the levels of diabetic sufferers in the near future?

A: The association’s council is constantly looking for new programs to implement. I believe that it is possible for us to lower the prevalence of obesity in Mexico through the combined efforts of several associations and institutions as well as the Ministry of Health. We are also seeing involvement from companies that would not previously have shown any interest. There are developments in the provision of healthier new products for diabetics, and we feel that providing healthier alternatives to basic foodstuffs is vital for Mexicans so they can control their diabetes. We are seeing several initiatives from food giants such as McDonalds introducing healthier options in its restaurants. Mexico has a significant responsibility to reduce the prevalence of this chronic disease but it is likely that we will not see significant results until at least ten years, as young people are becoming more aware of these health problems than their parents’ generation. At the moment, the principal requirement is greater involvement from the government to create programs to supply healthy foods to schools. Preventive measures are significantly less expensive than treating diabetes.