Diabetes has been called the epidemic of the 21st century, with 1 in 3 Canadians living with the disease or its precursor, prediabetes. Excess weight is a recognized risk factor, as is lack of exercise.

But another risk factor is ethnicity. That’s why it’s important for people in at-risk groups to be screened for diabetes, and to receive support for prevention and management. One such group is South Asians (people whose families originated in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan or Nepal), who according to Statistics Canada made up nearly 5% of the Canadian population as measured in the 2011 census, but who are much more heavily concentrated in regions such as the greater Toronto and Vancouver areas.

As part of its commitment to fighting diabetes here in Canada and around the world, Sun Life Financial has just pledged $300,000 to the William Osler Health System Foundation in Brampton, Ontario (west of Toronto) for a 2-part attack on diabetes. The Sun Life Financial At-Risk Diabetes clinic will screen and treat people in the Brampton area, which has one of the highest incidences of diabetes in Ontario. And the Sun Life Financial Osler Global Health Program will increase access to diabetes education and care in rural villages in Punjab, in northern India, a country where diabetes prevalence is among the highest in the world.

The first diabetes education clinic in Punjab was held April 1, while the At-Risk Clinic is planned to open later this year.

Improved access to diabetes care

At the cheque presentation on March 31, Ken Mayhew, President and CEO of the Osler Foundation, thanked Sun Life for its support, which he sees as a vote of confidence in the work the health centre is doing. “I love the fact that we have both local impact and global impact,” he said. “We recognize that diabetes is a huge concern in the region we serve as well as in India, where so many of our patients and their families are from. This new partnership will provide improved access to diabetes care that is urgently needed and help fill a gap and reduce the prevalence and severity of the disease.”

The Punjab program will engage nursing students to educate the next generation of health professionals in the region on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes. Here at home, the At-Risk Clinic will provide dedicated fitness, education and dietary/nutritional support to people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and their families.

“We are thrilled to be teaming up with the Osler Foundation in the fight against diabetes,” said Lisa Ritchie, Sun Life’s Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, who was on hand for the cheque presentation. “Together, we are taking diabetes care and prevention across borders and empowering people to take control of their health.”

Since announcing diabetes as its main business and community-giving priority in 2012, Sun Life has committed more than $17 million to the cause.