Speech – 2021.05.03 – Bill C-237 – Diabetes Framework

PARLIAMENTARY SPEECH

Bill C-237 –¬†National Diabetes Framework

May 3, 2021

Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-237, which proposes a national framework for diabetes.

This bill has been brought forward by our colleague from Brampton South and I would like to take a moment to comment on her dedication to seeing this bill passed and her overall concern for the health of Canadians. The member, who I served with for many years on the health committee, has always been one of the most non-partisan and collegial members of the committee. Her sincere desire to improve health outcomes for Canadians has always been her underlying motivation and it has been an absolute pleasure to work with her on that committee.

The situation with diabetes in Canada is truly shocking. There are about three million Canadians who live with diabetes. One in three children and one in 10 adults live with the disease. People with diabetes are over three times more likely to be hospitalized with cardiovascular disease, 12 times more likely to be hospitalized with end-stage renal disease and almost 20 times more likely to be hospitalized for non-traumatic lower limb amputation compared to the general population. Diabetes contributes to 30% of strokes, 40% of heart attacks, 50% of kidney failure requiring dialysis, 70% of all non-traumatic leg and foot amputations and is leading the cause of blindness in Canada.

The direct cost to our health care system just last year was $3.8 billion and estimated to rise to about $5 billion by 2030. That is a huge weight on our health care system. There is no doubt that diabetes is a serious chronic disease and it is on the rise. It is a disease that occurs when the body is either unable to sufficiently produce or properly use insulin. Over time, left untreated, it can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs such kidneys, eyes and heart, resulting in the serious complications that I mentioned, and ultimately death. It poses a challenge not only to those living with the disease, but also to their families, communities and the health care system. Therefore, any investment in reducing the rate of diabetes in this country should translate into long-term savings to our health care system. It just makes senses that we deal with this issue head on and deal with it now.

Also, each year close to 200,000 Canadians are newly diagnosed and many more diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Not all individuals who are pre-diabetic will develop diabetes, but the chances increase if steps are not taken to manage it. Fortunately, recent studies have shown that changes in lifestyle, primarily diet, physical activity and weight management, can delay or even halt the progression, but there is no question that we need to look at diabetes as a national problem and come up with a national framework, which Bill C-237 proposes.

The aging of the Canadian population, largely a result of baby boom cohort, has been one of the major factors contributing to the increase in the number of Canadians living with diagnosed diabetes. The increasing incidence is shocking. If any other health issue like cancer had increased in comparison, we would declare a national emergency and pull every fire alarm. Why do we not do it in this case? I believe it is because of the ongoing and unfair stigma that those with diabetes are simply lazy, unhealthy and authors of their own problems, which is simply not the case. Diabetes is complex and the people affected by it are not always in full control of their health conditions. We need to stop thinking that this is entirely a lack of personal health. At the same time, we should also not underestimate the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.

As part of any national framework on addressing diabetes, it is critically important that we look at the issue of organ donation. I know the member for Brampton South is also very supportive of organ donation and improving our system in Canada.

Diabetes, at its root, is a malfunctioning pancreas that fails to make the necessary amounts of insulin at the right time. For type 1 diabetes there is some hope people could receive a pancreas and/or a kidney transplant. A transplant can cure this problem and eliminate the need for insulin shots, but we need more people to donate these life-saving organs. For those who undergo a pancreas transplant, the survival rate exceeds 95% after one year and more than 88% after the five-year mark. It is possible to be a living donor and donate a pancreas, but this is rare and most donations come from deceased donors. Typically, these transplants last 10 to 12 years, so unfortunately multiple transplants and multiple donors are required over time. When it comes to kidney donations, the situation in Canada is quite dire, with more than 3,300 people on the waiting list. The demand is high because kidney transplants are in need for more than just diabetics. The wait time can range from months to years. Many never get their second chance at life.

The good news is that people can be living kidney donors. They can donate one of their kidneys to save another. I admire the member for Edmonton Manning, who did so for his son. Of course, live donations are a complex process and are required because we do not have enough deceased donors. The point is this. Canadians can dramatically improve the life and health of type 1 diabetics by becoming organ donors, so I strongly encourage all Canadians to register on their provincial organ donation registries and let their loved ones know of their decision.

Sadly, a pancreas transplant is not really an option for those with type 2 diabetes because that type of diabetes occurs when the body generates a resistance to insulin or is unable to utilize it properly. Type 1 diabetics make up about 10% of those with diabetes. Their bodies just do not make insulin, which is a situation where a pancreatic transplant would be required.

A constituent of mine, Brooklyn Rhead, a grade 12 student at St. Francis High School, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in February of last year. She suffered severe symptoms for about a year before her diagnosis. Her symptoms included extreme thirst, hair loss, fatigue, inability to concentrate and weight loss. As part of Brooklyn’s efforts, she has set out to increase awareness about type 1 diabetes and to raise $5,000 for diabetes research in her high school. So far, she has raised $3,900. I am confident that she will reach her goal, so I applaud her.

More than 300,000 Canadians have type 1 diabetes and Brooklyn’s efforts are creating awareness. It is an important contribution to finding the answers. Many are desperately longing for a cure. We know there is a need for a cure. We know there is political will. We know the need is urgent. We know the need is growing. As Parliamentarians, we need to move this bill along as quickly as possible to make that difference.

From my own personal experience, I have seen excellent pieces of legislation die when an election is called, so I hope we can get this to the Senate and get it passed as soon as possible before a writ is possibly dropped. Brooklyn and three million other Canadians are watching. They are counting on us to get the job done, so let us get it done.