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Lifelong treatment

Diabetes is an incurable autoimmune disease. In our children's hospitals in Cambodia, we support 458 boys and girls with diabetes, teaching them how to use insulin pens, talking to them about proper nutrition, and providing them with essential medication. In 2023 alone, 55 new cases were diagnosed.



For most children, the first signs are clear: intense thirst and ravenous appetite, extremely frequent urination, followed by fatigue, weakness, and weight loss. El Sayana was admitted to hospital in Phnom Penh at the age of one because she had become thinner and lighter, and was also suffering from fever and exhaustion. Doctors examined her and eventually diagnosed her with diabetes.


This incurable autoimmune disease causes the patient's own immune system to destroy cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone insulin. The process is slow and takes several months. Only when about 90 percent of the cells have been destroyed do the first signs of diabetes appear. Without insulin, the body cannot transport the sugar in the blood into the cells, and the blood sugar level rises sharply.

Since her diagnosis, El Sayana has been injecting insulin four times a day with a kind of pen. Her mother is very proud, says the now 17-year-old: «Because I've been able to do it myself since I was 7.» She learnt about proper eating habits and all the vital steps at the diabetes consultation hours offered by the Kantha Bopha hospitals. Girls and boys with diabetes come regularly to test their blood glucose levels, discuss the results with specialists, and receive counselling if necessary - and new insulin.


Doctor Ban Manet is on duty today and has a chat with El Sayana. She wants to know how the teenager is doing. Today's readings are a little low, so the specialist reminds her to have a snack. She puts an illustration on the table about nutrition. Meals should be balanced and varied.


The patient is grateful for the support and advice: «The people here at Kantha Bopha Hospital saved my life. And I can believe in a future owing to the help I still receive today.» El Sayana attends high school and hopes to become a doctor herself - preferably for children with diabetes.

The young woman will have to take insulin injections for the rest of her life – there is no cure. The disease is fatal if left untreated. But if her blood sugar is well controlled, El Sayana can expect to lead a normal life. Many girls and boys in Cambodia are like her. Say Sophalin is 30 years old, has known about his condition since the age of 9 and now works in a health centre advising other people with diabetes. Or Tarng Chhay Hok, who was rushed to hospital in a critical condition - «I only survived thanks to the quick and correct action of the doctors.»

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