The people of Eastmain made Iyiyuu history on Nov. 19 by being the first Cree community to be fully screened for diabetes in Iyiyuuschii. All community members over age 10 will have the choice of being tested.

The Diabetes Special Screening Project is a collaboration of the Cree Nation of Eastmain and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. The health board is providing technical expertise and a screening coordinator, while the Cree Nation of Eastmain supplies field workers and local coordination.

The other community included in the project is Waswanipi. The screening process is expected to start there in early 2000.

The screening started Nov. 19 and will go until Dec. 10.

“The main objective of this diabetes special screening project is to identify those people who have diabetes but do not know it,” said former chief Kenneth Gilpin, speaking at the official opening of the screening.

“It is possible not to show any symptoms of diabetes for five years. Once these people are diagnosed, proper treatment and follow-up will be prescribed.”

Diabetes in Iyiyuuschii is escalating at an alarming rate. It is becoming the number-one health issue. According to a diabetes registry set up by the health board’s diabetes task force, there were 808 Iyiyuuch diagnosed with diabetes as of May 1999. This was 10.3 percent of all Iyiyuuch over age 15. In May 1997, there were 607 diabetics (8.4 percent of the population older than 15), and in May 1998 there were 733 (9.6 percent). This is a 10-percent increase each year for the past two years.

Full screenings in other First Nations communities have found that 25 to 50 percent of the people with diabetes did not know they had the illness.

This could mean an additional 400 to 700 Iyiyuuch may have diabetes without being diagnosed, said Dr. David Dannenbaum of the Waskaganish Health Clinic.

These screenings also found 2 percent of youth 10 to 19 years old had diabetes. This is the reason children 10 years old and over are included in the Eastmain screening.

“Diabetes is a silent disease and when a person feels some signs of the diabetes, the disease has been there for a while,” said Francine Noël, the screening coordinator.

Noël said early detection gives people “a better chance to prevent and delay longterm complications.”

Nurse Noël recommends that everyone should have their blood sugar checked once a year, especially if some family members have diabetes. “The earlier a person knows he or she has diabetes, faster he or she will learn to control the disease,” she said.

The highlight of the official opening of the diabetes screening was a performance by the Brighter Futures Dancers. The children – 6 to 12 years old – danced up a storm and showed physical activity like dancing can be fun. This prompted master of ceremonies Kenneth Gilpin to say these children were setting an excellent example to the adults, who should be more physically active to prevent or delay diabetes.