The Brooklyn-based Caribbean Diabetes Initiative, Inc. (CDI) has described as “very successful, fulfilling” its recent medical mission to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
CDI President Kisha L. Carrington, a Tobago-born family nurse practitioner, told Caribbean Life, in an exclusive interview, that the May 30 - June 4 mission was “a reminder of the magnificent God we serve, who has guided us along the way in acquiring the tools necessary to reach the people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Carrington, who works at the expansive Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, said the Diabetes / Hypertension Care Program in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was conducted in partnership with the Diabetes and Hypertension Association – SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).
She said 17 CDI volunteers — 14 adults and three children — participated in the mission, and that they were “well received.”
“Our host, the SVG Diabetes and Hypertensive Association, members of the SVG Retired Nurses Association, along with the nurses at each of the clinics, received us, and we worked tirelessly to ensure that each day went smoothly,” Carrington said.
“The team’s (SVG) pharmacist, foot specialist and nutritionist worked hand-in-hand, making the collaboration all the more successful,” she added. “I can assure you, none were disappointed.”
Carrington said 338 patients altogether were screened in Chateaubelair, Stubbs and Biabou, and that patients were also treated and educated. She said 191 of those screened received treatment.
With the claim that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is renowned as “the amputation capital of the Caribbean – something we were aware of prior to our arrival” – the CDI president said the team, therefore, “knew that there was a need for intervention before the point of losing a limb.
“Unfortunately, many patients referred for podiatry screening did require intervention by a vascular surgeon,” she said. “However, all lacked the know-how of [protecting and inspecting] their feet.
“Needless to say, our educational presentations were priceless and highly valued by all,” she added, stating that the mission team taught diabetes disease process and its effects on the entire body – head to toe.
The importance of proper food choices, portion control, taking medications, examining the feet, eye exams and keeping regular follow-up medical appointments were also taught, Carrington said.
“We understand that there are limitations in access to specific resources, like an endocrinologist, podiatrist and ophthalmologist, but knowledge is power,” she said. “If people can better understand what living with diabetes really means, our hope is that they will feel empowered to do better and, ultimately, that can be saving a limb.”
“We know that the incidence and prevalence of diabetes is high worldwide; and so, in preparing for this mission, we did not expect St. Vincent [and the Grenadines] to be any different,” she added. “In fact, knowing that they lead in the number of amputations for the Caribbean speaks volumes.
“We always want to protect the feet of patients living with diabetes,” Carrington continued. “If there are so many amputations taking place, then that says a lot about the number of diabetics — their understanding of how to protect and inspect their feet and also the stage at which they may be when diagnosed.
“Perhaps the people are not going to the doctors until they have a cut/wound to the foot that is not healing, at which point a lot of damage may have already been done,” the Family Nurse Practitioner said. “These are concerns we had in mind while making our preparations for the trip.”
Unfortunately, she said the team’s findings were “not far off,” stating that, “in fact, most of the people we encountered, who were diabetics, seemed clueless about the little things they could do to protect their feet; so, education cannot be minimized.”
Carrington said an educational conference on June 4, at the Knowledge Institute, was “an intense, information-filled day” for nurses, doctors and other health care-related personnel.
She said participants were “engaged and had an opportunity to learn handy tools when teaching their patients.”
Carrington said the mission started with a meeting with members of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, which was “a nice jump-start to the week,” sitting “round-table to hear firsthand some of the health care needs of the people.
“We reviewed areas that needed further attention and tantamount to the country’s ability to receive outside help,” she said, pointing out that it was “important to note that St. Vincent [and the Grenadines] is not alone in this area within the Caribbean, and that the need to focus on primary care was identified prior to our arrival in the country.
“By the end of our trip, it was clear that more is needed,” she added. “We had already served the people at the various clinics, made donations of materials to other sites, through local team members, taught health care personnel important statistics about diabetes, donated supplies to the local hospital, and still something was missing.
“As successful as our mission was in giving to the people of St. Vincent [and the Grenadines], sustainability within the country remains a concern,” she lamented. “Research is the premise upon which treatment is derived, and we understand that acquiring statistics within the country is vital. We hope to continue partnering with the Ministry [of Health] to develop their focus on wellness, research and statistics.”
Besides Carrington, the CDI volunteers who traveled to St. Vincent and the Grenadines were: Diamond Knights (college student); Shirley Francis (Licensed Practical Nurse); Folayemi Akinbolaji (Pre-Med student – she sacrificed attending her college graduation to attend the trip); Carol Priestley (Registered Nurse); Suzanne Forde (Certified Physician Assistant); endocrinologists Samy McFarlane and Lisel Hope; Hope’s husband and daughter, Dain and Danielle, respectively; Catherine Williams (Patient Care Associate, native Vincentian); Yolande Carrington (Registered Nurse, Kisha Carrington’s mother); Yvette Davson (Public Health Educator); Gregory Luma (pediatrician/Emergency/Internal Medicine); Ashaki Nehisi (events coordinator and Kisha Carrington’s daughter); and Kisha Carrington’s sons, Kye and Seth Shaw.
Carrington, who was elected CDI president in August last year, said CDI is a community-based, not-for-profit organization, whose aim is to improve “awareness and management of diabetes and its related diseases to people of the Caribbean and beyond.”
She said the program – founded in 2011 by Trinidadian endocrinologist Dr. Lisel Hope — was launched in the twin-island republic that same year, and that CDI’s first trip was also to Tobago in 2011.
Prior to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ mission, Carrington said CDI conducted missions in Grenada sister islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique, as well as in Jamaica and Belize.