Diabetes and Black History Month

Diabetes and Black History Month: February is Black History month and one Congressional leader is urging African Americans to get their eyes checked – especially if they also have diabetes.

According to a press release from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), “The incidence of diabetes continues to increase, particularly among African Americans. 3.7 million African Americans aged 20 years or older have diabetes. Studies show that African Americans with diabetes are more likely to develop diabetic complications and experience greater disability from the complications than white Americans with diabetes. The only way to prevent this is through strict glucose control and by having an annual dilated eye exam.”

Congressman and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC-6) is quoted in the release as saying “Diabetes is an epidemic in the African American community. People with diabetes are 25 times more likely to go blind and African Americans with diabetes are at an even higher risk — almost 50 percent more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetes, it’s critically important for you to receive an annual diabetic eye exam, because it will help detect and prevent eye disease.”

Retinopathy is a common optical issue among those who have diabetes. This can be even truer among African Americans. The release states, “For every white American who gets diabetes, 1.6 African Americans get diabetes and one in four black women, 55 years of age or older, has diabetes. Diabetes is associated with an increased risk for a number of serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, including blindness, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Managing your diabetes can help reduce your risk.”

On a related Note the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is celebrating a nurse practitioner of African Caribbean descent. Because diabetes is so prevalent among people of Asian and African descent it was easy for Grace Vanterpool to pursue a career as a “nurse consultant in diabetes”.

A video provided by the NHS shows Vanterpool visiting patients and discussing ways to improve their condition. Vanterpool is also the only African Caribbean nurse consultant in diabetes in the U.K.

The NHS report states, “Grace works closely with patients, GPs and practice nurses, as well as training students and clinicians to provide high-quality care. She also works to ensure that all local services for people with diabetes provide the same standards of care.”

Grace and her team work with around 5,000 patients in treating and educating. Grace remembers some of her early work, “We had a double decker bus that went around town, testing people for diabetes and giving out information. During evenings and weekends we’d go wherever people gathered, such as train stations or the university. We also went to local factories, mosques and churches. We discovered that a lot of people had diabetes but didn’t know it.”

The report suggests that there are some 75,000 people in the U.K. that had undiagnosed diabetes. Grace continues, “Raising awareness among black and minority ethnic (BME) communities under an award-winning project called Action Diabetes. As a result, in 2006, she won Community Nurse of the Year and overall Nurse of the Year at the Nursing Standard awards.”

Grace concluded her NHS interview by saying, “The important message is not to ignore diabetes, as it’s a progressive condition. It’s the biggest cause of blindness in the UK working population, but this and other complications are preventable if diabetes is managed well and monitored.”

That includes regular eye exams.