by Duane Robin
PHILIPSBURG--Hundreds visited Saturday's health fair for free blood, tooth and eye tests. Most of the attendees wanted to find out whether they were diabetic.
St. Maarten Lions Club called its second annual Health and Wellness Fair a success, citing the more than 600 men, women and children who had check-ups and received information sheets at the St. Maarten Festival Village that day.
The fair's longest lines again led to diabetes testing and counselling.
"It is important for us to provide this service. Diabetes is on the rise in the Caribbean, and St. Maarten is no exception," Diabetes Foundation of St. Maarten (DFS) President Charlotte "Lotty" Peterson said Saturday.
Residents young and old sat for finger-prick tests of their glucose and cholesterol levels, along with checks of their weight and blood pressure. Volunteers had checked 350 persons by the end of the day.
Peterson said people usually underestimated the damage that could result from high blood sugar, adding that early detection was important to staving off later problems.
"Diabetes is an illness that doesn't always make you sick. Sometimes, when they do get diagnosed, the period of 10-12 years has passed and they get the complications," she said, pressing for persons, especially high-risk people who are obese or have diabetes in the family, to be tested.
Many visitors lined up for eye checks and HIV tests (see related story), the other two major draws at the fair. More than 60 children were vaccinated by government's Youth Healthcare Department.
Some 80 persons had their eyes tested, and another 50 will have free testing in the coming weeks, according to the Lions in a statement Sunday.
About 240 adults and teens were tested for HIV.
Dentist Dr. Hilda Guevara checked the teeth of 52 young children and stated that only a few of them had anything to worry about. "I'm happy that about 50 per cent of the kids are cavity-free; the problems are not that bad. The main idea is that they are not afraid of the dental office," she said.
However, the fair was not only geared at testing for illnesses. Ambulance and ICU nurses talked about their professions and taught CPR techniques. Other facilitators at the fair talked about preventing common but disastrous diseases.
Ladies of the breast cancer awareness group Positive Foundation informed women on how to ensure they know how to check that their breasts are safe. "We handed out shower guides, information booklets. Today, we just showed women how to do their monthly breast self-examinations. We had diverse age groups of women, middle-aged women, older women, and women from different parts of the community," said President Shelly Alphonso.
Coach Les Brown set up nets, balls and other sports equipment, while Motiance Dance School demonstrated yoga. "We're trying to bring the awareness of getting the children to move a little more," said Brown, a trainer and head of government's Sports Department. Brown is pushing for more adult-child sports programmes to allow parents to play with their children.
"The parents bring their children, drop them off and leave them there. What we would like to have is the parents and the kids together in the different programmes so they can interact. That motivates the child," Brown said.
The number of persons who attended the wellness fair spoke for itself. Whether or not they could pay for it themselves "the need is big for this kind of healthcare," Lions President Richard Panneflek said.
Organising committee Chairman Lion Wally Havertong hailed the event's new tests, such as glaucoma screening and dental checkups, and better booth placement as the biggest changes to the fair. "I think it has been an improvement from last year. We had much more to offer ... and people made good use of the opportunity to get their tests," Havertong told The Daily Herald.
Lions ran an aggressive marketing campaign in the weeks ahead of the fair, flooding media houses with information about the free tests and urging everyone who could or could not afford healthcare to attend.
"It was great; people came out and got the information they needed to get. We can be satisfied, honestly," Havertong said.