A study on diabetes in Central America is set to advance

A study on diabetes in Central America is set to advance, as the result of an agreement between the Pan American Health Organization and the Office of Global Health Affairs, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

HHS will contribute $125,000 to advance implementation of the Central America Diabetes Initiative (CAMDI), a multinational investigative survey to analyze the prevalence and risk factors of diabetes in five Central American cities: Managua, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Salvador and San José.

CAMDI, created in 2000, is a two-phase project that aims to:

  • Identify the prevalence of diabetes and risk factors for diabetes in the population
  • Evaluate the quality of health care for individuals with diabetes
  • Increase access to high-quality health care for individuals with diabetes
  • Implement programs to improve the quality of diabetes health care and an educational program for medical staff and diabetes patients
  • Design an educational program on diabetes for the entire population

The CAMDI study consists of household surveys, clinical examinations and measurements of glucose and glucose tolerance in 12,000 persons from the five cities. The funds provided under the agreement will help improve care for people with diabetes through data collection and analysis.

Approximately 20 million individuals suffer from diabetes in Latin America and the Caribbean, making the disease one of the most common health problems in the region. According to estimates from the Diabetes Initiative for the Americas (DIA), the number of diabetes sufferers will rise to 40 million by 2025 if preventative action is not taken.

But more study of the disease is needed: "The prevalence of diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, obesity and other risk factors in the entire region of Central America is still unknown," the agreement notes.

According to DIA's Action Plan for Latin America and the Caribbean 2001-2006, diabetes is the principal cause of some 45,000 deaths each year in the region.

Yet the number of deaths related to diabetes may actually be up to six times higher. "Because of specific problems of underreporting, it is believed that diabetes may be causing much higher mortality than what is reported in the vital statistics," says the DIA.

The paradox is that diabetes is a preventable illness.

Diabetes increases the risk of premature death, particularly through cardiovascular complications. It is also a major burden on health systems, consuming some $92 million, or 13 percent, of healthcare costs in the United States.

To fight diabetes, PAHO, the International Diabetes Federation, private companies and other national and international diabetes-related organizations signed the Diabetes Declaration of the Americas (DOTA) in 1996. Its main goal is to promote better health for people affected by diabetes.

Diabetes is caused by an alteration in the metabolism of carbohydrates due to a deficiency in production of the hormone insulin by the pancreas. Insulin helps cells use sugar as a fuel and also transforms it into energy.

There are two forms of diabetes: Type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes, in which a person has to keep track of insulin levels with daily injections, and Type 2, which is not dependent on insulin.

Ninety percent of diabetics suffer from Type 2 diabetes, which is also known as "silent diabetes." It usually develops in people over 40, with limited or no symptoms. However, increasing levels of obesity in the population have resulted in Type 2 diabetes appearing more frequently in adolescents and in young adults.

PAHO, which also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization, was established in 1902 and is the oldest health organization in the world. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.

For additional information, contact Daniel Epstein, PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3459.

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