SEATTLE, Washington — The Marshall Islands are a small cluster of islands located in the Pacific Ocean. In 2017, the obesity rate in the Marshall Islands was 42.3%, and the overweight rate was 74.9%. The Marshall Islands are struggling with chronic health conditions, especially Type-2 diabetes. The islands are home to 55,000 inhabitants. They have one of the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes in the world with 41% of adults having diabetes in the Marshall Islands. It is a current health crisis.
The Current Situation
The current diabetes situation in the Marshall Islands is dire. Diabetes is the leading cause of death on the islands, accounting for 10.4% of total deaths in the country. Currently, deaths due to diabetes or related complications are 228% higher compared to 1990. A lack of access to medication, education, healthy foods and diabetic care can explain the high mortality rate of diabetes in the Marshall Islands.
Lacking Healthcare Infrastructure
With only .456 physicians per 1000 people, the Marshall Islands lack proper medical services and infrastructure to care for a large number of Marshallese with diabetes or to prevent more people from contracting the disease. Preventative care from physicians is crucial to helping the Marshallese overcome the diabetes crisis.
Dietitians, for example, are important specialists who can help prevent the onset of diabetes and keep the disease under control by educating Marshall Islanders about proper eating habits. Dietary intervention is shown to lower diabetic A1C overall glucose numbers by between 0.5 and 2%. However, with so little healthcare infrastructure and spending, the Marshall Islands does not have many specialists that can help to administer preventative care.
The Importance of Nutrition
Another way to help reduce the deaths and onset of Type-2 Diabetes in the Marshall Islands is through improving access to high-quality, nutrition-rich foods. A poor diet is a large factor for the onset of Type-2 Diabetes. In the past, diabetes rates were relatively low in the Marshall Islands. Fifty years ago, the Marshallese ate natural food on the islands and exercised frequently. However, because of overpopulation in Majuro, natural, local food has become more scarce.
Today, 80 to 90% of foods in the Marshall Islands are imported. Thus, only high-income citizens can afford high-quality food. Marshallese living in impoverished communities are at a disadvantage in terms of food quality, which makes them more vulnerable to contracting Type-2 Diabetes. Without equal access to nutritious food in the country, diabetes will continue to be an issue.
Providing education about Diabetes to the citizens of the Marshallese people is key to reducing the number of people suffering from diabetes in the future. According to the University of Leicester, adults at a high risk of getting Type-2 Diabetes can reduce their risk by completing a diabetes education program. These programs are meant to help prevent diabetes. They provide education on proper foods to eat, exercise routines and risk factors.
There were plans in the past to help curb the surge of Type-2 Diabetes in the Marshall Islands, but none were truly successful. The best course of action to end the crisis is to increase healthcare spending towards healthcare and diabetes prevention resources. Investing in the healthcare system will allow for more hospitals, doctors and specialists that can help prevent Diabetes from being an issue for the Marshall Islands in the future.
Currently, COVID-19 is making the Diabetes crisis even deadlier. Diabetes is a condition that causes more COVID-19 deaths and complications in patients who already suffer from it. This current pandemic demonstrates how imperative it is to change the current healthcare system to help treat and prevent diabetes.
– Hannah Drzewiecki