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Crippling cost of managing diabetes

As World Diabetes Day approaches, XPRESS reports on how the high treatment cost can be more debilitating than the disease

Image Credit:
BATTLING DIABETES: From left: Gilly Geisler with her son Alexander, Michael Matafonov, Ksenia Matafonov, son and daughter of Evelyn Matafonov. Gilly and Evelyn run a support group to help families cope with diabetic children xpress/ ARSHAD ALI

Dubai: Managing diabetes is a lifelong affair, but for expatriate families without insurance cover in the UAE, the high cost of treatment can be more debilitating than the disease.

As World Diabetes Day approaches on November 14, XPRESS spoke to expat families to learn the cost of managing a Type 1 diabetic patient. The figures proved revealing.

Usually diagnosed in children and young adults, Type 1 diabetes is a condition that sets in early. But as Dubai-based insurance adviser Sanjay Tolani said: “It is difficult to get cover if you’re diagnosed with diabetes and are not already insured. There are very few companies that cover pre-existing conditions on individual plans.”

In Type 1 patients, the body does not produce insulin which is needed to convert sugar, starch and other foods into energy. “If left untreated, the lack of insulin can be fatal,” said Dr Lalit Uchil, Specialist Physician at Welcare Ambulatory Care Centre. As such, patients must maintain an optimal sugar level with a continuous regime of monitoring, insulin intake and lifestyle modifications – all of which cost good money.

Dubai-based Evelyn Matafonov, mother of two Type 1 diabetic teens ages 19 and 16, said their cost of treatment comes to around Dh4,500 a month in addition to other expenses over a longer term.

She said a breakdown of the monthly costs would list Dh203 for a box of insulin, Dh165 for the glucose testing strips, Dh495 for an insulin pump quick set, Dh200 for a pump reservoir and Dh1,500 for a sensor kit in the case of her daughter. In addition, there is the Dh500 cost of consultation with a doctor plus Dh200 for the HBA1C blood test every three months. The cost of a glucometer used to monitor the sugar level is Dh300.

“Thank God we have insurance which covers most of the treatment,” said Evelyn. Even so, she has to pay for some things, including the pumps, on her own. Her son and daughter are on insulin pumps, which like pens are most commonly used to administer the insulin. But unlike the pens, pumps come at a steep price.

“Each pump costs around Dh28,000,” said Evelyn who runs a support group called ‘I am Number One’ along with Gilly Geisler, another mother of a Type 1 child. “The costs of necessary medicines and medical advice are mostly, but not always completely, covered by companies or insurance companies. It is, however, interesting to know what the day-to-day costs are,” said Gilly whose 13-year-old son has insurance.

The cost of managing Type 1 diabetes varies from case to case depending on blood sugar levels and the amount of insulin taken.

Catherine Wilkis, a 46-year-old member of I am Number One who was diagnosed with Type 1 16 years ago, said: “I am on the pen and I am insured. The long-acting insulin which I take once a day costs Dh398 for a box of five pens. So one pen lasts me around two weeks. Similarly, a box of five short-acting insulin pens costs Dh301, with one pen lasting me for around two weeks. But this could vary for someone else.”

Those using the pen must also factor Dh165 for glucose testing strips (monthly), Dh65 for a glycogen set and Dh700 for the doctor’s visit and blood test (once in three months).

According to Tolani, it is critical to get a child insured at birth given the high cost of managing chronic conditions which can set in at any age. “Depending on the plan, the premium could range from Dh2,000 to $2,000 per year but it is well worth the spend. Diabetes apart, children frequently fall sick and tend to hurt themselves while playing. So it is very important to have them covered.”


High Incidence

The UAE has the second highest incidence of diabetes worldwide with around 20 per cent of the population affected by the condition, and 18 per cent at high risk, says the Dubai Health Authority. While official figures for juvenile diabetes are not available, the estimated number of children with Type 1 diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa region is around 65,000, according to the International Diabetic Federation.

Community Mornings by Beat Diabetes

The Landmark Group along with I am Number One, a support group by expat women experienced in dealing with Type I diabetic children, holds community mornings every month to discuss concerns of diabetic patients. The meeting is held at Balance Café at the Oasis Centre between 10am and 12 noon on pre-determined dates.


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