For 30 days in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, many individuals around the world who practise the Muslim faith refrain from eating or drinking from dawn until dusk in observance of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. This year, Ramadan will occur from approximately March 22 to April 20, 2023.
It is important for pharmacy teams to be prepared to support their Muslim patients who choose to fast during Ramadan, particularly those with health conditions, such as diabetes, that pose complications for fasting. Calgary pharmacist, Bilal Hatoum, has become an advocate for helping patients fast safely.
Bilal said he has seen family members and patients, particularly those with diabetes, struggle while fasting during Ramadan.
“In previous years, I’ve had patients that unfortunately attempted to fast and had some high-risk conditions and some of their outcomes were not ideal,” he said.
A couple of years ago, Bilal also had the opportunity to attend an information session offered by an endocrinologist about safe fasting.
“The experiences I witnessed in my personal life and with my patients, combined with this learning opportunity, sparked the idea for me to help build awareness about safe fasting,” said Bilal. “If patients have the proper information and tools to fast safely, many complications can be avoided.”
Bilal was inspired to develop a safe fasting information session that he presented in a Calgary mosque. He also connects with relevant organizations and uses social media to spread health, diet, and diabetes information, all with the goal of helping Muslims fast safely.
In Alberta, we experience about 13 hours of daylight at this time of year. On top of the long daylight hours, many individuals have careers that involve manual labour, which makes going without food or water during the day more difficult. Certain medical conditions and related medication needs present additional risk factors.
Bilal explains that, despite the potential risks, many patients do not discuss their decision to fast with their healthcare providers.
“As pharmacists, we have the responsibility to learn about our patients,” said Bilal. “There could be Muslim patients in every pharmacy; with Ramadan approaching, I encourage pharmacy teams to ask your patients if they plan on fasting so you can better support them.”
Diabetes is one condition that could impact the safety of fasting, in part, due to adjusting medications.
“For those with conditions like diabetes, accounting for medication adjustment factors is essential to good health and pharmacy teams have the expertise to help patients through this process,” said Bilal.
Bilal encourages pharmacy teams to refer to resources that have been developed to support safe fasting. Diabetes Canada has resources for healthcare professionals to support patients with diabetes during Ramadan. Sources such as Pharmacy 5in5 and RxFiles have also developed pharmacy-specific educational resources to support patients during Ramadan.
Bilal looks forward to hosting upcoming community information sessions in the coming weeks to help Muslims with diabetes fast safely during Ramadan this year.