This is a guest post from Physicians Committee member Ted Barnett, M.D.
Research shows that a low-fat, plant-based diet is effective in managing and reversing diabetes, decreasing the need for medication and cutting medical costs. This is why the Minister of Health of the Republic of Macedonia invited Caroline Trapp, N.P., C.D.E., from the Physicians Committee, and me to discuss how a healthful diet can reduce the country’s rising diabetes rates and associated costs.
Diabetes is a global epidemic, but as a physician practicing in the United States, I tend to focus on the skyrocketing rate of diabetes within America. However, the diabetes statistics in Macedonia are even worse. More than 11 percent of people in this country, once part of Yugoslav, have diabetes. And from the years 2000 to 2030, its prevalence is expected to nearly double.
After arriving in the country, we visited Saints Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje. We met with the director of the university’s cardiology clinic as well as Nikola Jankulovski, M.D., the dean of the university’s medical school. Our nutrition presentation to a group of faculty members on Wednesday was a success, with many staying after the lecture to ask questions. This was followed by two-hour presentations to even larger groups on Thursday and Friday. During our presentations, Ms. Trapp focused on diabetes and I focused on heart disease.
One of the most crucial meetings was with Nikola Todorov, the Minister of Health.
Minister Todorov is very interested in reducing the $25 million the country pays for insulin each year. Ms. Trapp presented our research showing that he could reduce medical costs by starting patients on a low-fat plant-based diet.
Not long into the meeting, the Minister asked to team up with the Physicians Committee to do a research study in Macedonia to establish that lifestyle interventions can successfully treat diabetes. Of course, we are excited by the opportunity to help show the benefits of a plant-based diet firsthand.
We met again with Minister Todorov on Friday evening and he reiterated his support for a research project to evaluate the effects of lifestyle changes. As I am an interventional radiologist, he was also interested in my opinions regarding establishing a program for intracranial catheter thrombectomy and thrombolysis in the setting of acute stroke.
On Friday evening, after our second meeting with the Minister of Health, we had a delightful meeting with Esma Redžepova, one of the most famous performers in Macedonia and someone who has lived with type 2 diabetes for nearly 20 years. As a humanitarian, she has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. We found her to be an inspiration!
We are grateful to the government of Macedonia for inviting us to help them tackle the diabetes epidemic and look forward to bringing our expertise to bear.