July 4, 2014
The Ramadan Diabetes App
Sometimes the ancient and the modern, the technological and the religious, come together in strange and unexpected ways and a new app I read about recently does exactly that.
How does a diabetes patient cope when they are in the middle of a self-imposed starvation or fasting regime? This is the dilemma facing millions of Muslims as they deal with the challenges of Ramadan. However, help may soon be at hand in the form of the “mDiabetes” mobile phone app, which is designed to provide information and advice during the fast period.
It is no secret that diabetes is an increasingly problematic illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes diabetes as one of the major causes of premature death and illness in the world. WHO estimates that there are around 347 million diabetes sufferers worldwide. Nine out of 10 of those have type 2 diabetes, which is of course closely linked to diet, exercise and lifestyle. Eating regular meals and control of sugar intake are key to keeping this type of diabetes in check. So the rigors of Ramadan must be especially difficult for type 2 sufferers.
Ramadan, the “month of the Koran”, is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and this year began on the 18th of June. The ninth month is important to Muslims for a number of reasons. It was then that the Koran was first revealed to the Prophet. During the month of Ramadan the gates of Heaven are believed to be open while those of Hell are closed and “the Devils are put in chains”. Although fasting for Muslims is not unique to Ramadan, it is only in that month that such abstinence is obligatory. Although Muslims who have a health problem which makes fasting potentially dangerous are not obliged to observe the fast, many still choose to do so. Conflict between religious commitment and maintaining an individual’s health can be a real dilemma.
The mDiabetes app has been piloted in Senegal, West Africa, where there has been, according to WHO, a “massive increase in obesity, particularly in young people” due to rapid urbanization lifestyle changes. An estimated 400,000 Senegalese are type 2 sufferers, but only 60,000 of those have access to diagnosis and treatment. Each year, the Ramadan period leads to a big increase in the number of patients with unmanaged diabetes requiring sudden urgent treatment and hospitalization.
The app will send free text messages to the user to aid awareness and prompt appropriate action. Typical messages might be along the lines of “Drink one liter of water every morning before you begin fasting,” or a reminder to avoid high sugar foods like dates. It will also provide training for health workers and allow “remote consultations and monitoring of patients in rural areas” where health services are sparse or non-existent.
All this is only possible because of recent increases in the ownership of mobile phones — especially smartphones — in Senegal. The potential for such technology to aid in diabetes and other diseases is enormous and WHO will be looking to expand its use to other countries facing similar problems.
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