Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010 promoting local culture and sustainable initiatives through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity in Southwest Morocco. We operate North Africa's largest fog harvesting project, providing villages with access to potable water. Our Water School and Girls' E-Learning Programs build capacity in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Through our Ethnographic Field School, researchers and students engage with local communities in Agadir, Sidi Ifni, and the rural Aït Baamrane region for meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Happy World Health Day!

Today marks the 66th annual World Health Day - and the anniversary of the biggest international organization dedicated to issues of well-being.  WHO, the World Health Organization, has celebrated World Health Day every year since the birth of its Constitution on 7 April 1950.  This year's celebrations focus on rapidly increasing rates of diabetes around the world.  With the goals of “scaling up prevention, strengthening care, and enhancing surveillance,” the WHO is seeks to stop the relentless march of diabetes. Globally, diabetes is the eighth biggest killer in the world, affecting one in every eleven people today.

Diabetes is a largely treatable, non-communicable disease. People with diabetes struggle to produce or utilize insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s sugar levels. It is vital to maintaining the energy we need to live.  If insulin isn't doing its job, a harmful build-up of sugar accumulates in the blood. This sugar build-up leads to diabetes.  

There are two main forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.  People with Type 1 cannot produce their own insulin and require insulin injections.  Usually diagnosed in children and young adults, Type 1 is responsible for only 5% of diabetes cases around the world.  Its cause remains unknown, but it is thought to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.   Type 2 diabetes is much more common. Those with Type 2 diabetes are able to produce insulin but cannot use it properly.  Type 2 is commonly associated with excess bodyweight and physical inactivity. Healthy eating and lifestyle habits can help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

In 1980, the number of people with diabetes stood at 108 million, but in the last 25 years, this figure has skyrocketed to a startling 422 million and growing.  Diabetes was once considered a disease of the wealthy, with the highest rates found in affluent countries.  Within the past few decades, however, the burden of diabetes has shifted to low- and middle-income countries.  More than 80% of the 1.5 million deaths directly caused by diabetes occurred in low- and middle-income countries.  Sadly, diabetics in these countries who require healthcare, medicine, and information about their condition too frequently do not have the means to access it.  Only one-in-three low- and middle-income countries report that primary health-care facilities have even the most basic technologies and medications available for diabetics.  Throughout these countries, the lack of affordable insulin remains the chief obstacle to successful treatment and avoiding unnecessary complications and premature death.     

Diabetes is one of Morocco's biggest public health concerns.  The country has more than 1.7 million cases of diabetes - with 8% of the adult population directly suffering from the disease. The rise of diabetes in Morocco is partly associated with the shift from rural, traditional lifestyles, urban migration, and dietary changes. These transitions are accompanied by higher levels of stress and sedentary lifestyles, which increase the risk of obesity and heart disease.    

The treatment of diabetes is not only a serious public health issue, but also a sustainable development issue.  Although diabetes wreaks significant economic strain affecting the rich and poor worldwide, inconvenience, pain, anxiety, and a lower quality of life impose intangible and unquantifiable costs.  Diabetes causes more than half of the nontraumatic lower limb amputations and is one of the leading causes of visual impairment and blindness.  There is no way to calculate the financial and socioeconomic burden imposed by loss of vision or limb to diabetics and their family members.  “We can stop it, we know what needs to be done, but we cannot let it evolve like it does because it has a huge impact on people’s health, on families, and on society,” says Dr. Etienne Krug, the WHO expert leading efforts against diabetes.

On an individual level, the onset of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with simple lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and avoiding tobacco use.  A recent WHO report has stressed, however, that there is not a simple, catch-all solution to addressing the diabetes pandemic.  The solution relies the coordinated intervention plan that engages all sectors of society.  It has called on governments to place regulations on fat and sugar contents of food to ensure healthy options are more widely available and to prohibit the marketing of unhealthy food to children.  Policies that improve equitable access to proper medication and care, urban planning that encourages people to walk and cycle, public health education, and health-care providers can collectively curb the rise of diabetes and improve the lives of those living with the disease.

While not a primary healthcare provider, Dar Si Hmad plays in active role in issues of public health. Our RISE and THRIVE Programs boost education, aspiration, and activity levels for urban youth in Agadir.  In our Water School, rural children learn about the importance of active lifestyles and are taught using a variety of interactive games. And our flagship fog-harvesting project includes WASH programming improving water for sanitation and hygiene systems for communities in the rural southwest.

Thanks to our fog nets, potable water is now reliably pumped directly into the homes of five partner villages. But many of these houses still lack appropriate waste disposal and sanitation systems. One of Dar Si Hmad’s current projects is working to ensure that every household in the community has adequate access and knowledge of good hygiene practices.  

The Water School lesson at the end of April will be on WASH.  Children will learn about germs, contamination, and the importance of better hygiene and health practices.  They will use microscopes to examine the differences between clean and dirty water.  Using glitter to represent germs, students will learn about the importance of regular hand-washing.  Educating children on appropriate health principles will encourage them to transmit these practices to their families, enabling extended community members to benefit from basic health information.  

Working to improve hygiene routines and reduce health burdens, Dar Si Hmad promotes local livelihoods, socioeconomic sustainability, and empowerment in Southwest Morocco. From Morocco's 1.7 million diabetes-affected residents, the children of our Water School, the young leaders of RISE and THRIVE, and the committed staff in our Agadir offices - Happy World Health Day! May we all work toward a healthier world.

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