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Pioneering the Fight Against Diabetes

A meeting with some representatives of the Department of Health some time ago showed the indifference of health officials, and Filipinos alike, towards diabetes. Five hundred new cases reported everyday, yet to them it is JUST diabetes—something that frustrates the man they call “Father of Philippine Diabetology“.

He therefore swore to educate his fellow countrymen about this disease, when he brought back everything he learned while in the United States. The foundation he put up to create awareness of diabetes has grown and is developing several programs to further research in a country plagued by this silent killer. And the man behind it all is none other than, Dr. Ricardo E. Fernando.

The making of a diabetologist
Before making a name for himself, Dr. Fernando seemed to be destined to serve his countrymen in a different setting—the Church. As his parents didn’t have money to send him to medical school, he was sent to the seminary.

However, luck and fate reunited Dr. Fernando with his childhood dream of becoming a doctor. The Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) in Wisconsin, at that time was looking for likely scholars to send to medical school. As a Methodist himself, Dr. Fernando was granted the scholarship—the big leap to becoming a medical practitioner.

At the Harvard Medical School, neurology was Dr. Fernando’s first chosen specialty; to him it was the closest to his favorite high school subject, Physics. But it was during a month-long class at the Joslin Diabetes Clinic which started his interest in diabetes, and cemented his real purpose.

He went back to the Philippines after completing his studies at Harvard, and immediately started an investigative report on the prevalence of the disease in the country. It was in Tondo where Dr. Fernando first used the two-hour postprandial blood sugar test in the diagnosis of the disease. The report showed that 6.4 percent of the adult population in Tondo had diabetes.

In those days, diabetes was a still widely misunderstood disease. And so, instead of welcoming the data presented by Dr. Fernando, and finding ways to alleviate the problem, criticisms were thrown at him. Yet he never yielded to those who opposed him. He marched on, and eventually his resiliency has paid off.

80/20
And so several years after starting the campaign to create diabetes awareness, many have jumped on Dr. Fernando’s bandwagon. First on his list was to put up an institution that would concentrate on educating Filipinos, both patients and healthcare professionals, on diabetes. The Institute for Studies on Diabetes Foundation, Inc. (ISDFI) started its operations in 1989, and since then there was just no turning back.

Fast forward to the present, the year 2009 will prove to be an exciting year for Dr. Fernando, as ISDFI turns 20 on June 16. However, the brightest milestone is for the man himself, as he turns 80 on May 16. With excitement brimming from his eyes he says, “That’s why the title of our celebrations throughout the whole year is 80-20.”

Dr. Fernando explains that at the start of ISDFI, they didn’t have activities to go on with. But today, they’ve gotten their hands full concentrating on ISDFI’s thrusts—education, service, and research. For the past 20 years ISDFI’s goals remain the same, however fresh ideas are born out of necessity to address growing concerns in their field. In a nutshell, Dr. Fernando shares that through the educational programs, they have educated hundreds of healthcare professionals, both nurses and doctors, and even nutritionist-dietitians. And the numbers are still rising.

“We have quarterly sessions for general practitioners, and any doctor who would want to learn about diabetes. It’s only a short course, which lasts for three months. But if you are an internist, you can join the one-year course which we call a diploma course. The third one is the longest one, which lasts for two years, and is called Master of Science (MS). The MS degree is given by the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center (UERMMMC),” he shares.

He adds that due to high demands, the quarterly sessions become monthly workshops. He says that doctors, nurses, and any healthcare professional interested in diabetes could join these sessions. This workshop, which draws about 100 people, has also taken them from Cagayan Valley up north to Zamboanga down south.

On the other hand, to fulfill its thrust on service, Dr. Fernando shares that ISDFI’s office in Marikina offers outpatient services. “If you are a member of the dispensary, you get free consultations and laboratory services. You only pay a membership fee so that you can buy medicines cheaper in our pharmacy,” he says.

Also new to the service line-up of ISDFI, Dr. Fernando proudly shares, “We are intending to open our clinics to the private practice of our staff. That is aside from Saturdays for the dispensary which is purely for charity patients. But their income would go to the Institute.”

Bold move in research
As a research institution, the biggest challenge lies in the third thrust of ISDFI. Probably the boldest move in diabetes research, this very recent project of ISDFI will cover the entire country once it has begun. “This year we’re starting on what we call an institutional research. It is the prevention of diabetes among first degree relatives of diabetics who still are not diabetic. We are currently in the process of drawing the protocol,” explains Dr. Fernando.

A pioneering research in the country, and Dr. Fernando’s best kept secret, he says that he has high hopes for the project’s success. He claims that those relatives who still do not have diabetes but already have fasting blood sugar of 90mg/dL will already be started on treatment,” and treatment can start with lifestyle change,” he notes.

He then goes on to explain that in ISDFI, those whose fasting blood glucose reads 100mg/dL, are already considered to be diabetic. To prove his point, “There are those who die of heart attacks with a blood glucose reading of 100mg/dL. I had my share of casualty with this, and he was a cardiologist,” laments Dr. Fernando.

Partnering with this huge research is the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians (PAFP). “PAFP’s promise to me is that they’ll cover the entire Philippines. Then after five years, they’ll be reading it in the international assembly,” he shares.

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Comments:2

  1. Hanicarl C. Buhay Reply
    11/08/12

    Hi interested to enroll on the 3 month course in diabetology for GP. I would like to know where can i inquire. Thank you.

  2. Joanne Villaflor Reply
    14/06/05

    Hi, I’m a gp in tuguegarao city. Am also interestedin any short courses you wish to offer.Pls. Update me thru my email for any upcoming schedule of your courses.thank you very much and more power!

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