40 years on

The Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion of Ja­maica, 1976

Jamaica Gleaner - - DIABETES WEEK FEATURE - PROF ER­ROL MOR­RI­SON OJ, HON LLD, HON DSC Med­i­cal Di­rec­tor and Hon (Life) Pres­i­dent, Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion of Ja­maica

IT WAS just last week I re­ceived a call from the sight team of the Lions Clubs and the 1970s flashed back. That was a pe­riod of great awak­en­ing in the health arena. The Lions Clubs of Kingston and St Andrew had been chal­lenged by Dr Henry U. Shaw, the then cus­tos of St Andrew and se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Kingston Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal, to take an in­ter­est in di­a­betes as it was be­ing re­alised that di­a­betes was a lead­ing cause of blind­ness. This was stated in his ad­dress to the clubs, which had and still have as their main­stream in­ter­est ... sight.

Such was the be­gin­ning of the di­a­betes as­so­ci­a­tion when of­fi­cers of the clubs in­vited stake­hold­ers to meet and dis­cuss mean­ing­ful in­ter­ven­tions into this emerg­ing mal­ady ... di­a­betes mel­li­tus. The team would be drawn from doc­tors, nurses, di­eti­cians, phar­ma­cists, phys­io­ther­a­pists, Lions, Lionesses, Leos et al ... and I was the new kid on the block, hav­ing just re­turned from post-grad­u­ate med­i­cal stud­ies in the United King­dom and ex­press­ing an in­ter­est to spe­cialise in this ‘cu­ri­ous dis­ease’ known as di­a­betes.

The plan­ning ex­panded into meet­ings which

aimed at ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic in gen­eral, per­sons with di­a­betes in par­tic­u­lar, and specif­i­cally the health­care team as to the grow­ing im­por­tance of this con­di­tion which threat­ened to be­come a ma­jor pub­lic health prob­lem, mak­ing ex­ten­sive ad­verse claims on the qual­ity of life for peo­ple with di­a­betes, their sup­port groups and com­mu­ni­ties, as well as a costly bur­den to fam­i­lies and the pub­lic purse.

The as­so­ci­a­tion was launched in June 1976 and it was off to a chal­leng­ing start as many per­sons were hes­i­tant to ad­mit that they were af­fected by the con­di­tion. It was not un­til we started pub­lic meet­ings, teach­ing the known and ac­cepted facts about the con­di­tion and of­fered free checks of eyes, blood sugar, heart and feet that the throngs swelled.

Im­por­tant at this time was the in­tro­duc­tion of the new tech­nol­ogy where blood sug­ars could be mea­sured in a drop of blood ob­tained by a fin­ger­pick and in­serted, via a test strip, into a small smart table­top ma­chine which read the result in one minute. Bravo! No need to

go to hos­pi­tal nor med­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ries and wait days to re­ceive re­sults, and that break­through was fa­cil­i­tated through Glen Chris­tian at H.D. Hopwood Dis­trib­u­tors Com­pany.

How to reach the pop­u­la­tion was the next hur­dle, and we started large and, small meet­ings around the is­land in church halls, schools, com­mu­nity cen­tres and, largest of all, at the Univer­sity of the West In­dies As­sem­bly Hall.

The first pa­tron of the as­so­ci­a­tion, Ranny Wil­liams (aka ‘Maas Ran’), is­sued ra­dio clips dur­ing pop­u­lar talk shows, un­der the ti­tle ‘You did know seh?’, and the peo­ple were lis­ten­ing to this well-known co­me­dian and drama­tist.


A break­through was achieved in the late 1980s when Sir Alis­ter McIn­tyre, the then vice-chan­cel­lor of UWI, ad­mit­ted to the pub­lic that he suf­fered from di­a­betes and en­cour­aged all so af­fected to avail them­selves of the sup­port be­ing of­fered through the di­a­betes as­so­ci­a­tion. Peo­ple be­gan com­ing ‘out of the worm­wood’.

Then the two hero­ines of the Caribbean in the di­a­betes story came on board. Syl­van Al­leyne at UWI re­vealed from her so­cial

stud­ies that per­sons were not ad­her­ing to ad­vice given by the health-care team and were be­ing ad­versely in­flu­enced by the cul­tural prac­tices of folk medicine; and Alma Mock Yen, com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist also at the UWI, waged war through in­fo­tain­ment on ra­dio pro­grammes. She reg­u­larly reached over 30 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, a feat un­heard of any­where in the world, and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity all beat a path to the ra­dio ed­u­ca­tion unit at UWI to bet­ter un­der­stand how it was done. That is how the aware­ness height­ened and was won, and I sat at their feet.

The mem­ber­ship of the as­so­ci­a­tion grew and its work in­ten­si­fied. It opened doors for the di­eti­cians, foot care spe­cial­ists, com­mu­nity health work­ers, em­brac­ing them firmly within the health-care team and em­pow­er­ing them to ex­e­cute their rel­e­vant ac­tiv­i­ties, all in the in­ter­est of pur­suit of the mantra given to us by then pa­tron of the as­so­ci­a­tion, Jean Seaga-An­der­son – ‘Un­til there is a cure, let us give the care’.

As­sis­tance from the In­ter­na­tional Di­a­betes Fed­er­a­tion (Canada, USA, UK, EU) al­lowed us to

pres­sure for bet­ter prices for in­sulin and sup­plies, and this con­trib­uted to the tremen­dous in­put that was to be of­fered by the National Health Fund as it evolved its health in­sur­ance scheme.

We were itin­er­ant, hav­ing first a home in the di­a­betes out­pa­tient de­part­ment at UHWI, then to 72 Hope Rd, then to 1 Downer Av­enue, where we cur­rently house the head­quar­ters from which the is­land­wide ac­tiv­i­ties are co­or­di­nated.

Our as­so­ci­a­tion’s de­vel­op­ment would guide the re­gion to de­velop as­so­ci­a­tions in all the Caribbean is­lands – English, French, Span­ish and Dutch – and lead to the for­ma­tion of a Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion of the Caribbean

Then came Lurline Less, an as­so­ci­a­tion mem­ber and di­a­betic; Owen Bernard, Bri­tish war vet­eran and chi­ropodist, both of whom would an­chor the con­tin­ued evo­lu­tion of the as­so­ci­a­tion. Out­reach and in-house clin­ics served the pub­lic daily, ably as­sisted by pro­fes­sion­als vol­un­teer­ing their ser­vices in the fields of medicine (WrightPas­coe, Cun­ning­ham-Myrie, Wright, Per­saud, Gor­don, Mor­ri­son, For­rester, Tul­lochReid); nu­tri­tion (Grif­fith, Ra­goobirs­ingh, Cal­len­dar, Hamilton, Ed­wards); foot care (Dodd, Bernard); eye

care (Mani, O’Sul­li­van, Man­ju­natha), sup­port groups led by Hing, Mur­phy, Stephen­son, Mat­alon, McIn­tyre.


It was Sir Alis­ter McIn­tyre’s in­ter­ven­tion that got un­der way the re­gional con­fer­enc­ing and train­ing up­dates put on an­nu­ally by the Univer­sity Di­a­betes Out­reach Pro­gramme since 1993. It con­tin­ues to to­day with the largest annual in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on di­a­betes in the Caribbean, serv­ing some 600-1,000 par­tic­i­pants drawn from Ja­maica, the wider Caribbean, the Amer­i­cas, Europe and the Far East. It em­braces UWI, UTech, NCU, and the Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion of Ja­maica and streams its con­tents via YouTube world­wide.

The di­a­betes as­so­ci­a­tion, in the lat­ter 1980s, spawned an annual camp for di­a­betic chil­dren, now known as Camp Yel­low Bird and spear­headed by Dr Gabay, di­eti­tian/nu­tri­tion­ist Grif­fith, Owen Bernard, par­ents and friends. It was first held at the then West In­dies Col­lege in Man­dev­ille un­der the aus­pices of the prin­ci­pal and di­a­betes re­searcher, Dr Her­bert Thomp­son. It now seeks a home of its own.

Spe­cial­ists came in ... nephrol­o­gist Ever­ard Bar­ton

and busi­ness­man Den­nis En­nis, and tremen­dous sup­port from pri­vate sec­tor such as WISYNcO and Ki­wa­nis ser­vice clubs, helped get kid­ney dial­y­sis un­der way in 2000.

And now turn­ing full cir­cle, the UWI (Dr Mowatt) brings im­por­tantly back into the fore­front of our ser­vices, SIGHT and its preser­va­tion. This is helped from as far afield as Aus­tralia, whose push is for as­sist­ing chil­dren and ado­les­cents in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Min­istry of Health.

With over 100,000 per­sons be­ing served an­nu­ally through­out the is­land, we can look back and thank the stal­warts (Lions Craw­ford, Stephen­son, Mat­alon, Mon­tague; Leos Martin, Allen; Drs Ha­gley, Richards, Chris­tian, Hall; vol­un­teers Hing, Mur­phy; pa­trons Wil­liams, Seaga-An­der­son; hero­ines Al­leyne, Mock Yen) who all stood by us, be­lieved in us and helped us along the way as we pur­sued our mis­sion of ‘each one help one, and he who knows more lives longer’.

And the work goes on...!


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