A lot has been talked about the diabetes epidemic in Kenya. However, it is lost on many that there are two forms of diabetes, namely Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes; completely different from each other in how and when they occur and consequently how they are medically treated.

On the one hand, Type 2 Diabetes afflicts about 95% of all people suffering from diabetes. On the other hand, Type 1 diabetes is less common and is mostly diagnosed in early childhood (although rare late onset in adults is also possible). This is why it is also referred to as juvenile onset diabetes.

Unlike Type 2 diabetes which is attributed more to lifestyle changes and can therefore be controlled by interventions such as weight loss and diet change, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune genetic disorder that results from the body attacking its own pancreatic beta cells.

This completely shuts down the production of insulin in the body. Those diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes must therefore be put on insulin therapy for the rest of their lives.

According to a recent Nation newspaper article, there are about 5000 children suffering from Type 1 diabetes in Kenya. The article also points out to a sad fact; that many Type 1 cases in Kenya are not caught or managed correctly, leading to the death of many children from complications of the disease every year.

Due to its rarity and early onset in children, it is easy  to see how parents and other caregivers can easily miss the symptoms of the disease. Although some of the symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be quite similar, many people will not immediately associate these symptoms in children to diabetes.

According to Mayo Clinic, the following are the main symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Bedwetting in children who previously didn’t wet the bed during the night
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Irritability and other mood changes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • In females, a vaginal yeast infection (Source: Mayo Clinic)

It is recommended that a child is taken to a doctor if you observe any or a combination of the above symptoms.

With the body no longer producing insulin, complications such as Diabetic Ketoacidosis resulting from Type 1 diabetes can quickly lead to coma and death. However, disciplined administration of insulin will easily keep it under control and most people suffering from Type 1 diabetes live a relatively normal life right into old age.

Treating Type 1 diabetes in Kenya can present its own set of unique challenges to parents especially the financial challenge associated with the life-long cost of insulin and glucose testing supplies.

The good news is that many resources are becoming available to parents and caregivers to help their children cope with the disease with many hospitals training their staff on Type 1 diabetes management.

In addition, there are organizations that are helping subsidize the cost of insulin and glucose testing supplies:

  •  Kenya Diabetes Management and Information Centre (DMI Centre) which works with donors and insulin manufucturers to provide free insulin to children and teenagers with Type I diabetes.
  • According to this recent Nation newspaper article,  Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and Gertrude’s Children’s hospital have programs that offer subsidized or free treatment of Type 1 diabetes.  Learn more about the PETCA program offered by Gertrude Children’s Hospital from this Nation newspaper article and how it is benefitting children suffering from the disease.

See the following KTN News piece on the KNH program subsidizing insulin for Type 1 Diabetes Patients.

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