Teacher’s 39-year battle with diabetes

Electine Angatia injects her husband, Jotham Angatia with insulin at their home in Ibokolo area of Butere in Kakamega County. Angatia has lived with diabetes for 39 years. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

When Jotham Angatia collapsed during a party organised to celebrate his stellar performance in the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) exams in December 1980, his family thought he had been bewitched.

The witchcraft theory was sustained after doctors at St Mary’s Mission Hospital Mumias failed to immediately diagnose his problem.

Angatia had scored 33 out of 36 points at Ibokolo Primary School. This put him among the top candidates in the then Western Province. 

“The strange illness that could not be diagnosed and its timing - just after I had excelled in my examinations - made some of my family members and neighbours believe that some jealous people had bewitched me,” says Angatia.

His family later sought the help of several herbalists without success.

Afterwards, St Mary’s Hospital called and Angatia was re-admitted. After further tests, doctors discovered he was suffering from diabetes.   

“I have lived with this disease for 39 years now. I live on special diet and drugs, including insulin. I get two to three injections a day,” narrates Angatia.

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Although diabetes has cost him his eyesight, Angatia faces life positively. He is a teacher at his former primary school in Butere, Kakamega County.

Experts are warning that diabetes cases are on the rise even as the world marks World Diabetes Day today under the theme, Family and Diabetes.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has been raising awareness on the impact of diabetes on the family and the support those affected need. The organisation promotes the role of the family in the management, care, prevention and education on diabetes.

IDF is an umbrella organisation of over 230 national diabetes associations in more than 160 countries and territories. It represents the interests of the growing number of people with diabetes and those at risk.

Statistics from IDF have disclosed that in 1980, when Angatia was diagnosed with the disease, there were 108 million people in the world suffering from diabetes.

Regular exercise

Today, the number has risen to 425 million. Most cases are type 2 diabetes which is largely preventable through regular physical exercise, balanced diet and healthy living environments.

Diabetes Management Resource Centre (DMRC), a local NGO, says there are about three million people with the disease in Kenya.

“The situation is getting worse, not just in Kenya but across the world. The increase in cases of obesity and diabetes can no longer be ignored. Diabetes (Type 2) is on the rise in Kenya because of poor eating habits. People are eating a lot of fast foods and sedentary lifestyle,” says DMRC chief executive Duncan Motanya.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) puts the prevalence of diabetes in Kenya at 3.3 per cent and predicts that this may rise to 4.5 per cent by 2025.

“The situation is worsening and something needs to be done urgently,” warns Dr Saira Sokwalla, the head of the Diabetes Care Centre at MP Shah Hospital in Nairobi.

She said an increase in cases of diabetes is highest in Africa. In 2017, only 16 million people in Africa had diabetes. This is expected to rise to 42 million by 2040, 156 per cent increment.

Dr Sokwalla blames the problem on mushrooming of fast-food restaurants that entice Kenyans into eating processed foods that leads to obesity, a major contributor to the prevalence of diabetes.

She says people need to be educated on diabetes. Research by IDF in 2018 discovered parents struggle to identify diabetes in their own children.

“While the majority of those surveyed had a family member with diabetes, four out of five parents would have trouble recognising the warning signs of diabetes. One in every three people wouldn’t notice diabetes at all,” says the study.

The study underpins the need for awareness creation so people can easily recognise signs of diabetes.

“At MP Shah Hospital’s diabetes centre, we conduct free diabetes education to individuals and groups including families. We also stage medical camps to reach more people,” Dr Sokwalla says.

Dr Judy Kamau, a consultant psychiatrist at Hurlingham Medical Centre, says diabetes patients often find themselves depressed due to financial constraints which is dangerous.

She talks of two studies that found depression in diabetes patients. One, done in western Kenya, showed 20 per cent of diabetic patients had depression and another at Kenyatta National Hospital, in 2012, also found 24 per cent of the patients were depressed.

Angatia says lack of enough cash to buy drugs, food and for regular travels for checkups, has been a major challenge to his family.

“But the support I have received from my family, especially my wife, Electine, has kept me going. I already had diabetes when we got married. My wife, a nurse, has been a key pillar in the management of my condition,” says Angatia.

Tackle diabetes

Dr G.B Mahapatra, a senior consulting physician from Mediheal Group of Hospitals, says efforts are needed to tackle diabetes.

“About three in ten patients who visit our facility are diabetic. The disease is still rampant despite efforts to tackle it. Many Kenyans have misconceptions about diabetes which are affecting diagnosis and treatment,” Dr Mahapatra says.

He says the disease requires regular follow up with uninterrupted access to medication and specialist care.  

“Statistics show there are about 7,000 health professionals in Kenya. However, only 12 of these are endocrinologists, specialists in diabetes care. This has affected management of the disease,” says Mahapatra.

A Health Ministry official says about 468,000 adults have diabetes in Kenya.

He says the ministry has developed guidelines for managing diabetes and trained healthcare workers.

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Jotham AngatiaSt Mary’s Mission HospitalDiabetesWHO