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10 August 2010
A University expert in the treatment of diabetes is leading a unique mission to Mauritius in a bid to tackle the island’s high rates of disease.
Best known as an exotic holiday destination, Mauritius has the second highest prevalence rate of diabetes in the world with islanders suffering disabling and potentially fatal complications as a result.
Diabetes, particularly if it is not well controlled, is associated with a range of complications, including blindness, amputations, kidney failure and heart disease.
Professor David Owens, School of Medicine, at the invitation of Mauritius’ Prime Minister, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam is leading a year-long mission to improve the care for diabetics working alongside health and government officials.
Professor Owens who heads the University’s Centre for Endocrine & Diabetes Sciences said: "There is a genetic pool for diabetes among the Asian population but the diet is quite high in saturated fat, which is very toxic to the pancreas.
"So a combination of nutrition, physical fitness and the genetic pool is putting people in Mauritius at quite considerable risk of developing diabetes."
This is not the first time a University team has visited the Island to help tackle the disease. They first went to Mauritius in 2008 to set up an eye screening service, similar to the diabetic retinopathy service, Professor Owens established in Wales.
During this visit training was given to community physicians and optometrists in grading of retinal images for the presence and severity of diabetic retinopathy and Health care assistants in retinal photography by Rebecca Thomas, Steve Chave and Robert Malbon from the School of Medicine.
The team also presented the Mauritius Minister for Health and Quality of Life with two digital retinal cameras and related equipment obtained through generous donations.
As part of the Professor Owens’ current visit, discussions are also being held to train and appoint diabetes specialist nurses, while a diabetes centre has been set up in the south of the island to ensure patients receive a comprehensive annual check-up.
Professor Owens added: "The infrastructure doesn’t really correspond with the size of the problem, for example there are no diabetes nurse specialists. For us in the UK, specialist nurses were the turning point in diabetes care.
"In the case of Mauritius, all patients would see a doctor but very few of them have any specialist training in diabetes.
"I think patients aren’t getting education about diabetes and follow up and, if the doctor has only got a short period of time with a patient, then they can’t examine them fully. That’s where the complications come in. We’ve come across huge problems so we’re trying to educate the doctors and the nurses."
While work continues to improve adult services, experts from Wales have also helping to improve services for children in Mauritius.
Dr Lesley Lowes a Senior Lecturer and Pediatric Diabetes Specialist Nurse from the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies has just returned from Mauritius where she joined Professor Owens to undertake a scoping study of diabetes service provision for children and young people.
She also helped set up the first dedicated paediatric diabetes clinic and made other recommendations, based on her findings, to improve diabetes services for children.
Rebecca Thomas, a Research Assistant from the School of Medicine, and Steve Chave have also returned after delivering further training for the retinal screening teams and developing a register of patients with diabetes on the Island.
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