It is with a mixture of pride and humility that I give the opening address on this historic occasion; historic in that for the first time in Barbados an all purpose centre has been created which is dedicated solely to the surveillance and management of diabetes.
In the 50 odd years since independence, diabetes has transitioned from a bothersome issue, hardly worthy of mention in the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report of 1960 to the most serious health challenge facing our country and the leading cause of death. The factors driving this change are primarily sociological, involving a massive increase in obesity resulting from the fast food culture, motorized transport and the computer. The epidemic of diabetes-related illness, which now confronts adults, and increasingly so, children in our society, has produced a mounting burden of suffering and cost which threatens the very sustainability of our national health resources.
In 1998 the Ministry of Health requested assistance from the Pan American Health Organisation in the preparation of a protocol for the control of diabetes in Barbados. I was commissioned by PAHO to write the protocol the essence of which was a recommendation that the national effort to control diabetes should have as its centrepiece a dedicated specialist centre where all members of the health care team were able to function as an integrated unit in a single space. The Barbados Diabetes Foundation was formed to drive that process.
The concept, worthy as it was, would in all likelihood have remained nothing more than a pipe-dream had it not been for Mrs Maria Holder, a patient and friend who, although a Swiss citizen, had adopted Barbados as her home. During one of our many conversations she confided to me her wish to give a significant legacy to the people of Barbados, an island she had grown to love. When I mentioned that we were planning to develop a Diabetes Centre, she offered to provide the funding and having cleared it with her legal advisor, Dr Richard Haas, set in motion the process for donating the funds through the agency of Medicor Foundation of Liechtenstein. My only regret is that Maria did not live to see the product of her generous offer.
This official opening of the Centre marks the culmination of a 12 year long odyssey which began with my visit to Dr Haas’ office in London. There were many occasions in the intervening years when the process could have been, and I daresay would have been derailed but for the conviction and perseverance of two people, Christopher Holder, Maria’s son, and Robert Haas, son of Dr Richard Haas. And so, I put on record our deep appreciation to them, and to the entire board of Medicor for their forbearance, Prinz Eugen von Zu Liechtenstein, Fortunat Walther, Anton Lotzer and of course to the tireless warhorses Hommy Khosrowpanah and Michael Russell. Michael has been the man on the ground and he, Hommy and Peter Symmonds have really kept our collective shoulders to the wheel.
I salute the efforts of successive Governments and Ministers of Health from Philip Goddard, through Jerome Walcott and Donville Inniss to the present Minister, the Honourable John Boyce, as well as Permanent Secretary Tennyson Springer, Chief Medical Officer Dr Joy St John, Senior Medical Officer of Health for chronic diseases, Dr Kenneth George, and the entire health team from the Ministry for their abiding encouragement and support.
The mission of the centre is to improve the lives of people with Diabetes in Barbados. Its role will be education, training, research and a new paradigm in diabetes care based on integrated management with the patient as the centre. We will work with the Diabetes Association of Barbados whose President will later inform you of its role as regional chair for the IDF for 2014. We will continue to work with the, the Chronic Diseases Research Centre, of the University of the West Indies and with all local, regional and international agencies that are involved in diabetes control at any level. To that end I am happy to welcome Dr Ernest Pate, acting PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries
The Barbados Diabetes Foundation is an umbrella organization which embraces a clinic, a programming centre and a Data Centre. The clinic promises to implement best practice using modern equipment and integrated function, the programming centre will organize outreach and research programmes and the data centre will be the repository of all information relating to diabetes in Barbados and hopefully the Eastern Caribbean.
The centre will, through education and early intervention, reduce the number of people developing end-stage complications such as blindness, end-stage kidney failure requiring dialysis, and will reduce the number of amputations by at least 30 percent within the first 5 years and therefore significantly reduce the bed stress at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. In so doing, we will reduce the burdensome cost to government of managing Diabetes. We will also capture and store in our new Electronic Health Record data which can be aggregated and used for planning and research purposes.
But my address would be incomplete without mentioning some of those who played an integral part in the nurturing of the process. Firstly I commend the co-founders of the Foundation, Dr Livingstone Forde, who I am delighted to see in the audience, Dr Carlisle Goddard and Ms Simone McConnie who has worked tirelessly to get us to this point. I compliment Mr Jeff Gellineau who continues to give us wise financial advice, and the Office team of Ms Vickie Durant our Secretary, Ms Norma Springer who, while the rest of us are asleep at night, is up writing memoranda for the Foundation, Dr Diane Brathwaite our Clinical Specialist, Ms Tracey Bushell our Diabetes Specialist Nurse and Mr Dwight Edghill who knows everything about everything that happens at the centre.
I thank the Board of Trustees and our patrons, Dame P Symmonds and Sir Clifford Husbands, and Sir Kenneth Stuart who has acted as our international advisor from the beginning.
I especially want to express the appreciation of the Foundation to our friends and supporters; to Mr Cally Boyea, who through his Help Us Help programme at ESSO has been a friend for life, to Mr Derek and Mrs Dorothy Crowson and friends, without whose help we would not have been able to purchase vital pieces of equipment, and to all those whose names time does not permit me to mention but who have helped in some way and who know who they are.
I conclude by and greeting our overseas partners, Heather Zacker from Joslin Diabetes Centre (a Harvard affiliate), and Bauer Sumpio Professor of vascular surgery at Yale University.
I leave with the conviction that citizens of Barbados will benefit from this substantial gift and that future generations will say “Thank you Maria Holder”.