MY EDITOR asked me recently if I had just found religion. He was referring to the increasing frequency of overtly biblical references in my medical column.
The relationship between medicine and spirituality has always been close. Throughout spiritual literature, many conversion miracles have involved the cure of some terrible illness or physical infirmity. Whereas medical science may be coming closer to elucidating the mechanistic answers to how disease can be cured, spiritual knowledge may still be necessary to inform the personal context for physical healing to occur.
Faith-based activities are communal. People like to come together to pray, to share joyful events, and to comfort each other during sorrowful times. At their best, faith-based activities inspire hope and create the necessary sweetness for self-sacrifice to be palatable.
I attended the 12th Annual Guam Diabetes Conference last Sunday. Hundreds of patients and health care providers packed the Hilton Hotel ballroom to capacity and listened attentively to loud, breathless, boisterous, smart speakers who convinced me that wellness and lifestyle matter. With a shoestring budget and grassroots energy, the Guam Diabetes Association in partnership with the Guam Nurses Association, the Department of Public Health and Social Services, and the University of Santo Tomas Alumni Organization of Guam have successfully moved our community closer to controlling diabetes.
The theme of this year’s conference was the promotion of daily aerobic exercise, prudent nutrition, weight control, and lifestyle changes as the means to prevent the heart disease, blindness, and dementia associated with uncontrolled diabetes. Conference organizers are to be congratulated for selecting a celebrated group of guest speakers from around the Pacific who were able to lift spirits as well as competently discuss the emerging science of diabetes medical care.
Guest speaker Nia Aitaoto, MPH, is the regional advisor for the Pacific Chronic Disease Coalition and the Pacific Partnership for Tobacco-Free Islands. Through her community health development work, Aitaoto is able to observe the health-seeking behavior of the peoples from American Samoa, Hawaii, Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Northern Marianas, and Guam.
Aitaoto reported that the increased public awareness of diabetes symptoms, treatment, and prevention has only partially impacted on Pacific
Islanders’ taste for salt and fat. Aitaoto discussed brilliantly on the cultural difference between ‘know’ and ‘do.’ Throughout the Pacific, diabetic disease can be seen as inevitable, uncontrollable, a product of black magic, or something about which to feel ashamed.
The Samoan scholar declared that the universal cultural reality in the Pacific is the sharing of the best-tasting, the sweetest, most expensive foods as a sign of affection and appreciation. Aitaoto observed humorously that an unintended consequence of such symbolic love is fat pastors and priests. Even less funny than fat priests are fat babies who later become fat people who then get diabetes.
Aitaoto reported on ongoing efforts throughout the Pacific islands to partner public health messages with faith-based activities. The promotion of purposeful physical activities like fishing and farming; the celebration of self-sacrifice for the sake of a healthier life; and the replacement of hopelessness with empowerment are the messages that island doctors and pastors can share.
The Guam Diabetes Association was established in 1982 by Albert Carbullido, the Association’s first president, beginning with only seven members. In 1992, Carl T. Butler became the Association’s new president; and as of today, the Association now has well over 80 members, all committed to promoting diabetes awareness.
As a community support group whose membership consists of persons and families with diabetes, they hold monthly diabetes sessions, membership and boards meetings. At the regularly scheduled sessions, guest speakers, both on- and off-island, cover topics on foot, eye and dental care, self blood-glucose monitoring, nutrition, and physical activity and its relation to the prevention, control and management of diabetes. For more info, check out their excellent website: www.guamdiabetes.org