The Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago (DATT) has been monitoring the global spread of the COVID-19 Virus, particularly its impact on the elderly and persons living with underlying chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory conditions. These individuals are more susceptible because of compromised immune systems. While we note for most persons in the general population who contract the virus, the effect is mild to moderate (80%), for the remaining 20%, hospitalization may be required.

Most of these more serious cases are among people over the age of 60-80 years (range reported by different countries) and/or have underlying conditions such as Diabetes.

From the global data thus far, people with diabetes tend to have a higher chance of infection with the COVID19 virus and a higher risk of further complications compared to the general public. Fluctuations in blood sugar or other underlying comorbidities common in persons living with diabetes means that a physician-led treatment approach should be implemented upon the presentation of symptoms.

This is recommended, as person with poorly managed diabetes have elevated blood sugar levels which create an environment for the COVID-19 virus and other seasonal flu and cold
viruses which may lead to longer recovery periods.

Out of an abundance of caution, the DATT will be taking the following precautions towards the safety of our members and persons living with diabetes:

Starting Monday 16th March, and for the remainder of the month,

All DATT branch meetings will be cancelled
All DATT outreaches/testing/activities/events will be cancelled
All testing at our Head Office will be cancelled
Our head office located on Success St, Chaguanas, will still be open during our regular hours of operation (Monday to Friday 8am-3pm) to facilitate the sale of strips and the coordination of information releases to the public.

We further advise that the elderly and persons with compromised immune systems practise social distancing as the most apparent vulnerable group in this pandemic. This means to limit unnecessary exposure to members of the public and relatives.

As the virus may have a 1-3-week incubation period, it means that persons that appear to be healthy can carry and spread the virus to vulnerable persons. This reduction in exposure, coupled with the recommendations from the Ministry of Health is what we can do as a society to slow the spread of this virus.

The DATT also notes with great concern the constant bombardment of fake news, exaggerations and misinterpretations about the virus on social media. These only serves to drive irrational panic. We appeal to persons living with diabetes and the elderly to only act on the information which comes directly from the Ministry of Health and/or the Ministry of Communication of Trinidad and Tobago, or other credible bodies.

International sources such as the WHO (World Health Organization), CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and IDF (International Diabetes Federation) may only be useful for general information. Please refrain from sharing WhatsApp broadcasts and Facebook posts about the virus which do not come directly from these credible sources and only from their official pages.

In response to this, over the next week, the DATT together with our partner TATIL and
TATIL Life will be producing a series of infographics to debunk some of these myths and make available more information about COVID -19 through our social, broadcast and print media networks.

In the interim, we ask people living with Diabetes (and other chronic conditions) and persons over the age of 60 to take the following precautions:

• Refrain from unnecessary social gatherings and crowds over the next few weeks.
• Prepare just in case you get ill.
• Ensure you have all relevant contact details at hand in case you need them (your closest health facility, your private doctor).
• Pay extra attention to your glucose control.
• If you do show flu-like symptoms (raised temperature, cough, difficulty breathing), call the nearest health facility.

If you are coughing up phlegm, this may indicate an infection so you should seek medical support and treatment immediately.

• Any infection is going to raise your glucose levels and increase your need for fluids, so make sure you can access a sufficient supply of water.
• Ensure you have a good supply of the diabetes medications you need. Think about what you would need if you had to quarantine yourself for a few weeks.
• Ensure you have access to enough food.
• Ensure you will be able to correct the situation if your blood glucose drops suddenly.
• If you live alone, make sure someone you can rely on knows you have diabetes as you may require assistance if you get ill.

If you have someone living with Diabetes or senior citizens in your family, you should do the following:

• Ensure that you check on them regularly (phone calls with less face to face exposure is better).
• Limit their exposure to large crowds. Volunteer to do their shopping and run errands for them.
• Ensure that they have their prescriptions filled and have an adequate supply of blood glucose strips.
• Try not to share food, towels, glasses, tools etc with them.
• Clean and disinfect any surfaces which are touched frequently.
• Ensure that they have easily accessible handwashing stations or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
• Limit their in-person exposure to any family members and friends outside of the household.
COVID-19 is a new coronavirus, so the outcomes are not clear right now, however, the DATT will continue to help persons living with Diabetes and other vulnerable populations in whatever way we can during this time so that they can make informed actions rather than from a position of fear.