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Medical Files

The Philippines is a diabetes ‘hotspot’

/ 05:10 AM January 09, 2018

The Philippines is considered one of the diabetes “hot spots” in the Western Pacific region, where the disease is already reaching epidemic proportions. Our government knows this too well, and the increased taxes on sugary drinks is just one of the steps being taken to stem the tide.

Sufficient public education is needed to make everyone aware of the lifestyle changes needed to prevent diabetes, or to detect it earlier, so it can be controlled before there is serious damage to vital organs like the heart, kidneys, brain, eyes, nerves, liver—since practically all organs and tissues of the body are affected.


We’re happy to learn that the Philippine Center for Diabetes Education Foundation, Inc. (PCDEF), founded and currently headed by Dr. Augusto Litonjua, was recognized as a Centre of Education by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and its School of Diabetes during its recent congress held in Abu Dhabi.

Dr. Litonjua is considered the Father of Philippine Endocrinology for having pioneered in treating patients with diabetes and other endocrine or hormone-related problems in the country.


The PCDEF, also known as the Diabetes Center Philippines, has been at the forefront of raising public awareness for diabetes in the Philippines for the past 25 years through its four major programs—Diabetes Awareness Week, Camp Cope (for Type 1 diabetic children), Intensive Training Course for Diabetes Teams, and the National Assembly of Diabetes Educators. To date, it has established more than 200 training teams, based in major hospitals around the country.


In the Western Pacific, the Philippines ranks fifth—behind China, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand—in the number of diabetics. Based on the IDF Atlas, there were already 3.9 million diabetic Filipinos when the population was 65 million. With the current population now over 100 million, local experts estimate that we should have more than 5 million diagnosed diabetics. A similar number will likely remain undiagnosed, or have prediabetes.

No wonder a lot of money is being spent on dialysis in diabetic patients with end-stage kidney disease. Last year, PhilHealth spent around P8 billion to assist patients undergoing dialysis, the majority of whom were diabetics. This is a frequent, sad story among diabetics—they never realize they are diabetic until they are rushed to the hospital for serious complications like heart attack, kidney failure, stroke or a gangrenous foot.

Preventing diabetes and diagnosing it early is our best bet to keep more people from undergoing dialysis, going blind, undergoing heart bypass, and having their legs amputated due to gangrene.

In the same IDF statistics, around 50,000 diabetic Filipinos died that same year due to diabetes-related complications like heart attack, stroke, and kidney and heart failure. If nothing is done to stem the alarming trend, the prevalence of diabetes is expected to soar to 20 percent by the year 2045, and more than 100,000 Filipinos would be dying every year due to its complications.

“If we act now, we may be able to check this rise in the diabetic population, and education is the answer,” Dr. Litonjua says. He stresses that diabetes can be prevented, “and this is what awareness of the disease is for.”


PCDEF advocates patient education through a team approach, where a group of healthcare professionals works closely with the patient. The team includes a doctor who acts as the coordinator and main decision maker, together with several other health professionals such as a dietitian, nurse educator, and social worker. This approach ensures that all bases are covered.

Not a death sentence

With proper education, the diabetic patient realizes that once diagnosed with definite diabetes, though it’s a lifelong problem requiring lifelong treatment, it’s not a death sentence. It can be adequately controlled to prevent complications, and the patient feels more at ease with the disease. Diabetics can still live normal and healthy lives compared to non-diabetics.

In fact, for some, being diagnosed with diabetes could even be a blessing in disguise. We have a patient who dramatically changed his lifestyle when he was diagnosed. He quit smoking and excessive drinking, lost some weight, and started exercising daily.

For those who don’t know if they’re diabetic or not, it takes a simple blood test to find out. Screening for diabetes is recommended for everyone 40 years old and older. It should be done at a younger age if any of the following is present in the medical history: borderline or pre-diabetes (impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance), diabetes during pregnancy or if with babies weighing 8 lbs or heavier, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), overweight or obesity, waist circumference more than 80 cm (31.5 inches) in females and more than 90 cm (35.5 inches) in males, first degree relative with Type 2 diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, hypertension (BP >140/90 mm Hg), previous history of any vascular diseases including stroke, disease of the heart and leg arteries, schizophrenia (mental disorder), low good cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) in the blood, and high blood triglycerides.

Aside from Dr. Litonjua, who is PCDEF’s founding president, the other officers of this non-profit organization are former first lady Amelita Ramos (chair), Rosie Lovely Romulo (vice-chair), Enrique Perez (vice president for internal affairs), Ricardo Pascua (treasurer/comptroller), Dr. Cynthia Manabat (secretary) and Erlinda Inocencio (executive director).

The members of the board of directors are Felipe Gozon, Fulgencio Factoran, Dr. Carolyn Montano, Dr. George Tan, Dr. Tommy Ty-Willing, and Angeli Valenciano.

The PCDEF secretariat is based at Makati Medical Center. Call 8921064, 8888999 local 2287, 0998-5678978, 0922- 8080538; email

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