It all started with frequent visits to the toilet. Faith Mbendera later resorted to keeping a chamber next to her bed because sometimes, when she felt like urinating, it would be too late to get to the toilet.
She would also experience poor sight problems, dizziness and thirst. Little did she know that those were the symptoms of diabetes, a non-communicable disease (NCD). She learnt of her condition after undergoing a medical check-up.
â€œIn May 2010, I collapsed as I was taking a bath. When I was taken to the hospital, doctors discovered that I was diabetic. I was given Metaphonine drugs,â€ recalls Mbendera, who lives in Chileka, Blantyre, Malawiâ€™s commercial city.
She is the only one among her four siblings who is diabetic. She prays her 11-year-old son does not inherit the disease. Her fears for her son emanate from the challenges that come with being diabetic in Malawi.
Since her diagnosis, she has experienced drug scarcity in public health institutions.
â€œIt is expensive to access drugs. For example, Protaphane/lint or insulin costs about K9 000 and on a monthly basis, I require three, which means I need K27 000 per month to survive,â€ says Mbendera.
Statistics from the Diabetes Association of Malawi (DAM) indicate that Mbendera is among 10 000 registered people who are diabetic.
According to Mbendera, since she joined the association, they have been meeting to discuss issues related to their condition, including healthy food that is relevant to them such nsima ya mgaiwa, boiled vegetables and beef.
â€œAt least I have lost some weight. I make sure that I follow instructions from doctors who conduct medical checkups on me regularly at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital [QECH],â€ she says.
Mbendera calls on government to ensure there is a consistent supply of drugs in hospitals.
â€œGovernment should ensure that drugs are available in public hospitals. They can team up with non-governmental organisations [NGOs] to achieve this,â€ she says.
In 2009, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Malawi had a 5.6 percent prevalence of diabetes, although DAM says the figure has doubled since 2010.
Additionally, statistics from the International NCD Alliance Global Report on women shows that over 300 million people worldwide have diabetes. The report says half of these are women because they go for testing.
To champion a safe environment for diabetic people, DAM has engaged communities in civic education to underscore the need for medical check-up and joint efforts in dealing with discrimination at the local level.
DAM president Timothy Mtambalika said in an interview that while members complain of challenges, the association is lobbying for support from the government to increase funding towards the disease.
â€œCurrently, we depend on membership fees for our awareness activities. We need partners so as to reach out to various communities,â€ said Mtambalika.
He is of the view that health authorities should also team up with the association in sensitisation campaigns, claiming a large proportion of people have diabetes, but live in denial.
â€œThe disease is serious because at QECH, we register close to 2 500 people with diabetes in two months. On a weekly basis, six or seven are diagnosed at the hospital,â€ says Mtambalika.
Although, Malawi through the Ministry of Health and the desk responsible for NCDs, continue to work together with the association, people like Mbendera and others feel the need to have support groups.
Dr Beatrice Mwagomba, director of NCDs and Mental Health Unit in the Ministry of Health, says the essential health package conditions of the current heath sector plan for 2011 to 2016 includes NCDs such as diabetes.
However, such drug challenges raised by patients and the association are likely to be history, going by what Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali says.
â€œWe know their problems, but what I know is that dialysis machines are operational. We are also trying to ensure that insulin should be available at all times,â€ explains Chimbali.
As Malawi and the rest of the world commemorate the diabetes day this Wednesday, calls are pouring in for joint efforts in dealing with the disease.