Augustine: Legislation Will Encourage Diabetes Screening in Nigeria


Usifo Augustine is the Head of Marketing, Biofem Pharmaceuticals. In this interview with Martins Ifijeh, he said diabetes can be tackled through healthy lifestyle, routine screening and effective treatment plan. He also touched on the need for legislations as a tool to encouraging screening

What are the risk factors involved in diabetes?

Diabetes can either be gotten from genetic predisposition or environmental factor. The later deals with issues of lifestyle, dietary considerations, among others. Age is a risk factor; once people get to age 40, the possibility of coming down with diabetes increases. Another thing is obesity, especially abdominal obesity, which is often noticed in males compared to women.

There is also gestational diabetes. There are some women who come down with high blood glucose during pregnancy. Even if such women deliver and the blood glucose comes back to normal, the fact that she even came down with it at all is enough reason for her to be careful in future. It means she is at risk of having diabetes later in life. Intake of alcohol and smoking are all risk factors. Sedentary lifestyle is also a factor. We believe when every Nigerian is aware of these risk factors, they will know what to do or avoid in order to prevent it.

How can awareness be raised to tackle diabetes?

While we have been accustomed to the traditional ways of creating awareness, there are several emerging platforms that can help. For instance, look at the last general election, and how social media platforms were used. Technology is now a very strong tool used by both the young and the workforce. It is important to use a diverse means to create awareness.

Let there be legislation also on this. We need legislation to encourage diabetes screening in Nigeria. With legislation, every Nigerian will be aware that it is a national issue, otherwise diabetes will not only be epidemic, it will become pandemic.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

In diabetes, the body is unable to handle blood glucose load properly because it either lacks insulin or the insulin in the body is not working 100 per cent. This means glucose (which is energy) is unable to go into the body cells, thereby causing energy deficit. It is important to understand diabetes from this angle. Once there is energy deficit, all the symptoms observed fall in line. If the body can’t handle glucose properly, it means it will be in the blood as it can’t go into the body cells.

This will cause the person to urinate frequently leading to dehydration. This sequence happens because the large volume of glucose need to leave the body, and as it does that through urine, it carries along with it water. Then because the urine is heavy with glucose, it will encourage infection to grow. You find out that people with diabetes also have infection. Since the body is unable to utilise glucose, you will also find out that the person will be weak and always hungry.

What are the complications?

Diabetes affects different organs negatively, like the eyes, kidney, nerves, and so on. For some people, they may begin to have niddle like feel and numbness in their extremities. That is why when such people get injuries, they may hardly feel pain, and may have poor wound healing. Foot ulcer is a complication that can arise as well. The ulcer may be so bad that the leg would have to be amputated. Diabetes can also affect the heart and the brain.

How can Nigerians prevent this?

The first thing for every one is to know whether they are genetically predisposed to it or not. Which ever way, it is advisable to live a healthy lifestyle. Routine and regular checks are very important, that way it can be niched in the bud if there is a possibility of it.

We should check the kind of food we eat. Mistake most people make is that they think the type of food diabetics eat must be different from what others eat. What diabetics eat is ideally what everyone should eat. The nutrient and size of food must be apt.

We have to make sure we eat complex carbohydrate, which means the body will take time to gently break it down. We should avoid refined food which contains simple sugars which immediately shoots up simple sugar. We should eat lots of vegetables and fruits.

Giving up smoking and reducing alcohol intake is a way of preventing it. This reduces the work the liver does. Don’t forget the liver is the grave yard of the body, such that every chemical and poison are worked on in the liver. The liver is a very robust organ of the body, but it must not be overworked, otherwise diseases like diabetes can surface.

We should stop sedentary lifestyle. Our schools should encourage play grounds. Work places should be structured in a way that people can move around or exercise. Now we are even beginning to see adult onset diabetes in young people because of obesity. Most of the things we do now are automated. Farming and other lifestyles were helping our health in the past, but we have left them. Another important thing is for us to cultivate the habit of routine medical checkups. It should be done at least once a year.

Why is Biofem championing causes on diabetes awareness?

Last week, we screened and counselled over 20,000 Nigerians on diabetes. This is part of our efforts to commemorate this year’s World Diabetes Day which is on the 14th November 2017. We are creating awareness on diabetes because the government’s body language seems to favour more of communicable disease, more and we feel that diabetes is a very serious disease that is killing us underneath.

Our government often sponsors programmes on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and the likes, but if you look keenly, you will discover that non communicable diseases are killing people more. Diabetes is the leading cause of death globally.
As at 2015, diabetes caused about five million deaths all over the world, which is higher than any other disease burden globally. Awareness will help people prevent factors that will predispose them to the disease. Once you are diabetic, it is as if you have signed a lifetime marriage to diabetes.

For us in Biofem, we have, in conjunction with our South Korea partners, been able to secure a unique and smart blood glucose machine called CodeFree. This was used last week for free mass screening in designated centres in Lagos. The centres are Computer Village Ikeja, Trade Fair, Victoria Island and Ikotun.
We didn’t only screen over 20,000 Lagosians, we also educated them through our health professionals. This is part of the support we have been doing on diabetes for the past 15 years. Apart from the fact that November 14th marks World Diabetes Day, it was also our Managing Director, Mr. Femi Somerekun’s birthday.

Does Biofem support research and development in areas of tackling diabetes?

We support researches and studies in our area of bias. Though we also make our researches, that has helped us in making internal decisions.

Is it treatable?

As of now diabetes can’t be cured, but can be managed to the point that diabetics can live normal lives. There are quality drugs that help in managing it in addition to lifestyle. We recommend that diabetics always go through their doctors and pharmacists for treatment. Hey should not self medicate. For us, we are partnering with Merck from Germany and we distribute one of the leading anti-diabetic drug in the world. We have also taken time to ensure we also get the best of products from very competent partners across the globe. At the end of the day, what is more important for us is the quality of drugs. So diabetics should go for quality drugs.
Diabetes drugs are still expensive in the country, especially for poor Nigerians.

How can we tackle this?

It is unfortunate that the trunk of the drugs we use in Nigeria are imported, when produced here, it will come with many benefits. We know the government is trying in the area of ease of doing business, but we are still lagging behind in getting some of our partners to establish their factories in Nigeria. This will make our drugs cheaper. During the last recession, pharmaceutical companies were the worse hit. Some drugs went up to as high as 100 per cent.
The country has a deficit of infrastructure. We will need time to close that gap. Let the cost of doing business improve just as we are championing ease of doing business.