The small centre table in the gol ghar (our roundhouse meeting space) was covered with the leaves and flowers of Gudhal (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), Neem (Azadirachta indica) and Adusa (Adhatoda vasica). Behind the table Shahnaz (our librarian and volunteer coordinator) was facilitating a discussion with around 20 diabetic patients.
This was the scene of the bi-monthly health education session on diabetes. It’s a 45-minute session where patients discuss their diabetes problems and find out what they can do to help themselves. When I talked with Shahnaz she said, ‘We see large numbers of diabetic patients who aren’t even aware that they have a problem – it’s really important that people understand what they are dealing with and take responsibility for their own health’.
Most survivors of the gas have permanent injuries. Reported symptoms are eye problems, respiratory difficulties, immune and neurological disorders, cardiac failure secondary to lung injury, reproductive difficulties and birth defects among children born to gas-affected women.
What, you may ask, is the reason for diabetes in particular among gas victims? When I asked our doctors they described many:
- Pesticides and pollutants inside the body can cause damage to the pancreas which can decrease the insulin secretion and may cause diabetes.
- Different toxicants can cause metabolic disturbance which can lead to obesity. This condition decreases the functioning of insulin receptors and it can give rise to diabetes.
- Hormonal disturbance increases the glucagons/cortisols which can increase the level of sugar in body that again can cause diabetes.
- Pesticides can cause mutations at the gene level which can disturb proper functioning of the endocrine system.
The aim of our diabetes health education sessions is to:
- Decrease a person’s dependency on medicines
- Educate about the longlasting and potentially harmful side-effects of some conventional medicine
- Nutritional advice
- Encourage use of herbal medicines
- Encourage yoga and exercise.
All of Sambhavna’s health education sessions exist as forums in which patients can take part and ask questions. In this diabetes session, people asked questions about blood-sugar levels, diet, side-effects of medicines and herbal alternatives. Shahnaz also explained how to take herbal alternatives to conventional medicine, and some patients shared their experiences of getting relief from medicinal plants. We look forward to the next one.