TREK: B.C. minister Mike de Jong to walk 150km across India to raise diabetes awareness

Published: November 15, 2012

JONATHAN FOWLIE
POSTMEDIA NEWS

Finance Minister Mike de Jong says he’ll travel 220 km across the Punjab next month, 150 km by foot to raise awareness of chronic diseases in South Asia.

VICTORIA — Finance Minister Mike de Jong will spend five days next month walking across northwestern India, an effort he said is meant to raise awareness for diabetes and other chronic diseases that disproportionately affect members of the South Asian community.

“I’m going for a walk across the Punjab,” he declared in a recent interview, making clear his awareness-raising adventure in northwestern India will not just be a casual saunter.

“I’ve only got five days. It [the total distance] is about 220 kilometres. I’ll probably walk about 150 kilometres of it,” he said, explaining he will go from Amritsar to Chandigarh and plans to cover about 30 to 35 kilometres a day.

The rest of the distance, he said, he will cover by car.

De Jong, who as finance minister has announced strict limits on travel and other spending, said he will personally pay all his own travel costs related to the walk.

“I’m covering all the costs for that, including the airplane ticket, myself,” he said decisively.

He explained the for the trip idea came together several months ago, while he was still B.C.’s minister of health.

De Jong represents Abbotsford West, which has a high South Asian population. In a recent interview, he recalled looking at the high incidence of diabetes and certain other chronic diseases among the South Asian population, and wondering what more could be done.

So when the BC Liberal government began planning a trip to India to open two provincial trade offices — including one in the Punjab capital of Chandigarh — he was the first to volunteer.

“I thought maybe this is a chance to profile some of that [awareness raising],” he said, adding he has been to the area many times before.

“So I said, ‘I’ll buy a ticket, I’ll go early, I’ll go to Amritsar and we’ll walk from Amritsar to Chandigarh.’”

De Jong said the plan is to hold information sessions in selected towns and villages, and to hand out literature from the InterCultural Online Health Network elsewhere along the way.

The information sessions, he said, will be conducted by Dr. Gulzar Cheema, a doctor and former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister who is joining de Jong on the walk. Cheema is also paying his own way.

De Jong added the trip has the support of the Canadian High Commissioner in Delhi, as well as the consul-general in Chandigarh.

After the walk, de Jong said he plans to officially open provincial trade offices in Chandigarh and Mumbai. He said costs incurred on those days will be paid for by the taxpayer.

De Jong added the Dec. 3-7 walk is not just limited to an Indian audience, as he said December is a time when tens of thousands of Indo-Canadians, from across the country, return to their home villages in the Punjab.

“Fifty thousand to seventy thousand Indo-Canadians visit at this time,” said Cheema.

“We are asking people who are visiting Punjab during that time from B.C. and other parts to join us on the way so they can start raising awareness and become diabetic coaches in the future.”

Cheema added that given the high incidence of diabetes among South Asians, it is vitally important to spread awareness about the benefits of healthy living.

“In my practice I see 10 to 15 diabetics a day. We have a huge population of South Asians in Canada and out of that I think 20 per cent are diabetic,” said Cheema, who has diabetes himself.

He added that he and de Jong hope that the awareness will spread long after the trip is done.

“People who are diabetic who have gained enough knowledge to manage their diabetes well,” he said, “we are hoping that eventually those people will become diabetic educators.”

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