"In Cambodia, diabetes ranks in the top ten for both causing the most premature deaths and for health problems resulting in the most disability."
Diabetes poses significant health risks in Cambodia, with over six per cent of the population estimated to have the disease. Left untreated, high blood sugar caused by diabetes can seriously damage parts of the body, including the feet, eyes, kidneys and blood vessels—leading to heart attack or stroke.
Diagnosis and management is affordable and practical in Cambodia but 64 per cent of people living with diabetes are unaware they have the condition, causing life-threatening and costly complications.
Diabetes and COVID-19
Evidence indicates diabetes is also a major risk factor predisposing individuals to severe and fatal cases of COVID-19; twenty-five percent of COVID-19 fatalities in the UK were diabetics.
As the COVID pandemic shows no sign of abating around the world, the need for Cambodians to know their diabetic status is more relevant than ever. Our team on the ground has therefore begun a pilot project, using our community connections and infrastructure, to screen some of the most vulnerable for diabetes. Many of our deminers already have medical training to equip them to deal with accidents or illness in the minefield and can be easily taught to administer the tests safely.
Protecting the Vulnerable
We have begun testing people across the districts of Kamrieng and Phnum Proek in Battambang province. The people of Battambang already face many hardships; the region has the highest rate of landmine accidents in Cambodia and the second highest disability rate. Kamrieng and Phnum Proek are two rural districts within the province where access to healthcare is limited and poverty levels are high.
HALO has worked in Battambang province for decades, establishing strong connections with village chiefs. This has been crucial to setting up the project and ensuring high participation from residents of the 92 villages that HALO's testing teams will visit between August and October.
In partnership with provincial health authorities and the Ministry of Health, two medically trained HALO teams are traveling from village to village, carrying out simple finger-prick glucose tests and uploading data via smart tablets to a central database. Those who have blood glucose levels greater than 200mg/dL, are referred to Battamburg hospital which has an excellent diabetes clinic. Here they will receive further testing and treatment. Those testing positive are also given guidance leaflets on dietary and life-style changes to manage their condition. Advice is also given regarding enhanced vulnerability during COVID-19 to those testing positive
In August, the project tested over 2,850 people, 10 per cent of whom indicated positive for diabetes and were referred to hospital for treatment. Thanks to funding from the UK Government we have been able to expand the project and have just screen our 10,000th person. (January 2021)