Who Has the Power to Change This?

I have often wondered who has the power to declare February as National Mentoring Month and September as National Guide Dog Month and so on. Why those months? Who decides?

I trust there is a vast registry somewhere, kept by a government bureaucrat, auditing firm or, maybe, on Wikipedia. It seems someone has to oversee this, or we’d have chaos. We might get National Oral Hygiene Month and National Candy Month at the same time. And that wouldn’t work.

Regardless of how months are designated, I know of a cause that needs a 30-day promotion of its own. In the U.S., November is National Diabetes Month, which draws attention to one of the most common, costly and rapidly rising chronic diseases in the country — and around the world. The month is promoted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and others.

Many diabetics need daily insulin treatment. After flash floods ruined Ruth Ann’s supply, the West Virginian (right) received doses for free from an Americares-supported mobile clinic.

So here is my idea: Declare October — the month prior to November — “National Prediabetes Month.” Why? Prediabetes is rampant, and if we increase our focus on this silent precursor, we will have fewer cases of diabetes.

Prediabetes is a diagnosis made when a person’s blood sugar levels are within striking distance of a formal diabetes designation. In effect it is a warning: Take action now, or this could get complicated.

A typical measure for diabetes is an A1C blood test. An A1C score of 5.7 to 6.4 is considered prediabetic; a score of 6.5 or higher tips the patient into full-blown diabetes. Getting that prediabetes diagnosis is critical because, with the right intervention — mostly focused on losing weight through diet and exercise — a patient can avoid the serious complications of diabetes.

Here in the U.S., 84 million people are reported to have prediabetes, and more than 30 million have diabetes. Around the world, diabetes is exploding. The World Health Organization reports more than 420 million people globally suffer from the disease with more than 1.5 million dying from it each year.

In Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, diabetics had a tough time keeping their insulin at the proper cool temperature because the storm knocked out power for months. In rural Jayuya, Americares supported health centers with fresh shipments of insulin and other cold-chain medicine.

At Americares, we see diabetes everywhere we work. It affects Syrian refugees seeking health services at clinics we support in Jordan. We know it is one of the fastest growing disease burdens at health centers we support in Latin America. In parts of Africa better known for infectious disease, diabetes is on the rise. And in the U.S., the charitable clinics we run for vulnerable people are overrun with diabetes cases.

Despite its prevalence, we can bend the rising curve of diabetes cases — starting with interventions among people who have been diagnosed with prediabetes. At Americares free clinic for uninsured patients in Danbury, Connecticut, our staff includes a health coach who works with at-risk patients to map out a plan to keep their A1C scores in check — in one group of coached patients, 96 percent had improvements in at least one clinical measure. Building similar programs throughout our health care system will save lives, improve health outcomes for millions and reduce a huge and costly strain on individuals, families and health centers alike.

So call up the bureaucrat, email the auditor or message the Wikipedia editors: Let them all know the next time the calendar swings toward Ocdiabtober, I will declare it as National Prediabetes Month.