Prevention is the Best Cure for Diabetes

Prevention is the Best Cure for Diabetes

Dr Angela Leung of the School of Nursing knows first-hand the suffering that diabetes can cause patients and their families. Her mother is a sufferer and needs to be connected to a dialysis machine at home every night. The challenge of providing care has proved daunting even for someone of Dr Leung's expertise.

"I'm a nurse and I still had to go for seven days of training on how to care for my mother, so you can imagine how difficult it is for people who don't know anything about diabetes," she said.

So, Dr Leung has decided to ring the alarm to encourage people to take action before it is too late. She has set up the Helico-D programme – for Health Literacy and Communication Training in Diabetes – to raise awareness about the risks for diabetes and how to minimise them.

The programme includes a free Chinese-language app, the Diabetes Risk Score, in which people respond to questions to estimate their personal risk. The results can be taken to their doctor for discussion and treatment if necessary. More than 10,000 users have accessed the app so far in Hong Kong, the US, Canada and countries in the Asia-Pacific.

"People with diabetes sometimes don't show any symptoms until they have blood tests so this can be like an early warning system," she said.

Physical activity is particularly important to keep diabetes at bay or under control, so she and her team have also organised a walking programme for the elderly in Western District. Workers in NGOs have been trained in getting the elderly moving and a map has been produced of walking routes. More than 1,400 elderly people have participated and before-and-after assessments showed an improvement in physical health.

A third component of the programme is an illustrated book that explains to the elderly how to participate in different physical activities and keep track of their progress.

Helico-D has been developed with community partners that include Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council, various government departments, and expert app designers and marketers. The Technology Transfer office of HKU has also provided assistance in the app development.

"The best way to treat this disease is prevention," Dr Leung said. "I hope people can understand the symptoms and know what community resources are available and how to approach their doctor for further investigation."

Taking the app further, at-risk users have recently been invited to the Faculty of Medicine for blood tests and assessments that they can show to their doctors. So far more than 135 people have made use of this free service.

The Diabetes Risk Score app can be downloaded on the App Store and Google Play.

Dr Angela Yee-man LEUNG of the School of Nursing received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2015 of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine for 'Health Literacy and Communication Training Series in Diabetes (Helico-D)'.