Making life easier for coeliacs and gluten-intolerant people

It’s time to improve the quality of life for coeliacs and gluten-intolerant people, ensuring their safety, reducing financial burdens, and fostering understanding in the wider community.

Living with coeliac disease is an intricate dance of avoiding gluten-laden foods to prevent severe health complications. Unfortunately, the current state-of-play in Malta puts many coeliac patients in a precarious position, especially those who were diagnosed through an elimination diet, much like myself.

The unsettling dilemma

The existing subsidies for coeliac patients hinge on the completion of a hospital test that requires a high consumption of gluten. For individuals diagnosed through elimination, this poses a life-threatening dilemma, as ingesting gluten for the test contradicts the very essence of their condition. It’s time to acknowledge this catch-22 situation and seek a more patient-friendly alternative.

A reasonable solution to this problem would be to permit coeliac patients to undergo an elimination test, which would be conducted by certified nutritionists. This approach not only respects the health constraints of individuals but also ensures an accurate diagnosis without endangering their well-being. It’s a small but crucial change that could revolutionise the way we address and support those with coeliac disease.

Dining out

Dining out as a coeliac patient is a constant struggle, marked by the lack of awareness among restaurant owners and employees. Many restaurants do not have at least one staff member trained to be able to deal with the needs of clients who are coeliac or suffer from food allergies. The additional charge for gluten-free items, ranging from €1 to €3, further compounds the challenge.

Proposing mandatory educational activities for restaurant owners and employees is a crucial step towards creating a more inclusive dining environment. By ensuring that those in the food industry are knowledgeable about gluten intolerance, we can dismantle the barriers that currently make dining out an anxiety-inducing experience for coeliac patients.

Advocating for fairness in the dining industry, is essential to address the exploitation of dietary restrictions. Proposing a ban on additional charges for gluten-free alternatives is a step towards not only ensuring equity but also fostering the seamless integration of gluten-free options on restaurant menus.

However, it’s crucial to recognise the financial burden that accompanies gluten-free foods, particularly those affecting coeliac patients. The substantial cost, coupled with the absence of accessible subsidies for undiagnosed patients, exacerbates economic challenges for individuals dealing with gluten intolerance and coeliac disease. By bridging the gap between affordability and dietary needs, we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable dining experience for everyone.

Expanding access

The National Coeliac Scheme has proven beneficial for many patients. However, its current limitations exclude those with gluten intolerance. While one could argue that this could open the door for those who see gluten-free diets as a fad to also gain access to the funds that are in place, expanding the scheme to cover gluten-free products would provide financial relief for gluten intolerant individuals, thus making these essential products more accessible and affordable.

Beyond gluten

Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance often intertwine with other dietary restrictions, such as milk allergy. Recognising this connection is vital in formulating comprehensive support systems for every member of society. Investing in a scheme, similar to The National Coeliac Scheme, for individuals facing a milk allergy would ensure that their dietary needs are met without the unnecessary financial strain.

Distinguishing between genuine and trendy

One could argue that, by advocating for such comprehensive support, one could open up the door not only for the truly deserving but also for those who view such diets as trendy to benefit from it.

To prevent this, it would be essential to draw a clear line between those truly suffering from gluten intolerance, coeliac disease, and milk allergy and those who are not. Rigorous testing protocols and professional assessments can help ensure that subsidies and support are directed towards those with genuine health concerns.

It’s time to improve the quality of life for coeliacs and gluten-intolerant people, ensuring their safety, reducing financial burdens, and fostering understanding in the wider community. By addressing the gaps in the current system, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and supportive environment for this section of the population.

Photo: Stefka Pavlova/Getty Images

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