Spotlight on Guatemala

The Patronato del Diabético in Guatelmala was founded 47 years ago to serve as a diabetes medication bank. It is now an independent organisation that includes diagnostic clinics, a clinical laboratory, nutrition clinics and a pharmacy. We speak with Herbert A. Fernández Townson, President of the organisation about how it is facing-down diabetes challenges in Guatemala.

What challenges do people with diabetes face in Guatemala?
The biggest challenge for diabetes sufferers in Guatemala is the lack of awareness about the disease. In fact, of the more than one million people with diabetes in the country, only about 40% of them know they have diabetes and only 20% are properly treated for the disease.

How does your association deal with those challenges?
Through its services, the Patronato del Diabético reaches approximately 7% of the diabetic population of Guatemala, but our service coverage cannot expand at the same rate as the growth in diabetes because our charges are very low. We even work at an annual financial loss (USD 200,000), which prevents us from increasing the number of service centres and limits the resources for the current operation.

For example, Guatemala has 22 departments, and we only cover 3 of them with 10 service centres. This is due to the lack of resources, as neither the state nor any other organisation provides us with funding to grow at the necessary rate.

...of the more than one million people with diabetes in the country, only about 40% of them know they have diabetes and only 20% are properly treated for the disease
 

Could you share some of your 2012 success stories with us?
In 2012, we managed to organise the First National Diabetics Fair to commemorate World Diabetes Day. Activities were carried out in a busy shopping area of Guatemala City. Five thousands people attended and we offered FREE diabetes consultations, glucose detections, nutrition consultations and osteoporosis detection using a bone densitometer. In addition, we organised a series of educational conferences, with eight national speakers, on issues connected with diabetes prevention and treatment. We also had a stand area for suppliers of products for people with diabetes. Everything received television, press and radio coverage.

What do you intend to do in 2013?
In 2013, we are going to hold 10 mass glucose detection events in several Guatemalan departments. We want to implement a national education programme in schools for the prevention of diabetes. We are going to renegotiate with our local suppliers to bring down the cost of diabetes medication even further, and we are going to hold the Second National Diabetics Fair, this time placing more emphasis on diabetes prevention.

It is hard to envisage any change because there is a great deal of governmental indifference towards diabetes.
 

Do you see any changes on the horizon for people with diabetes in Guatemala?
It is hard to envisage any change because there is a great deal of governmental indifference towards diabetes. And, despite the fact that we are proving, day after day, to be the number one option in Guatemala for people with diabetes, we do not believe that we will be able to care for or educate the necessary number of sufferers to halt, by some percentage, the rise in the number of people with diabetes in the short term.

We will also try to increase the number of people we see and treat nationally. We hope that we will be able to have an impact on the long-term reduction of the total number of people with diabetes in Guatemala through the prevention and education plans that we intend to implement.

How does being a member of IDF help you do your work and achieve your objectives?
Being active members of IDF helps to get our image recognised as the most important option for people with diabetes in Guatemala. We are continually strengthening this image through congresses and our physicians are constantly updating their knowledge to support such an important international endorsement.

The constant stream of information that IDF provides enables us to keep up to date and helps us to get a real, frank view of the diabetes situation all around the globe and in Latin America in particular. IDF also offers us support to attend its congress, which allows us to make ourselves known internationally and to see what the global trends in diabetes-related issues are. It would be very interesting if, through IDF, we managed to get some type of financial support for a national education programme.

The Patronato del Diabético was founded by Dr Antonio Fernández Lavagnino 47 years ago to serve as a diabetes medication bank. It is an independent organisation that includes diagnostic clinics, a clinical laboratory, nutrition clinics and a pharmacy.