Open Access Research article

Factors affecting the disclosure of diabetes by ethnic minority patients: a qualitative study among Surinamese in the Netherlands

Mirjam JE Kohinor1*, Karien Stronks1 and Joke A Haafkens2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Department of General Practice, Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:399  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-399

Published: 27 May 2011



Diabetes and related complications are common among ethnic minority groups. Community-based social support interventions are considered promising for improving diabetes self-management. To access such interventions, patients need to disclose their diabetes to others. Research on the disclosure of diabetes in ethnic minority groups is limited. The aim of our study was to explore why diabetes patients from ethnic minority populations either share or do not share their condition with people in their wider social networks.


We conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews with 32 Surinamese patients who were being treated for type 2 diabetes by general practitioners in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Most patients disclosed their diabetes only to very close family members. The main factor inhibiting disclosure to people outside this group was the Surinamese cultural custom that talking about disease is taboo, as it may lead to shame, gossip, and social disgrace for the patient and their family. Nevertheless, some patients disclosed their diabetes to people outside their close family circles. Factors motivating this decision were mostly related to a need for facilities or support for diabetes self-management.


Cultural customs inhibited Surinamese patients in disclosing their diabetes to people outside their very close family circles. This may influence their readiness to participate in community-based diabetes self-management programmes that involve other groups. What these findings highlight is that public health researchers and initiatives must identify and work with factors that influence the disclosure of diabetes if they are to develop community-based diabetes self-management interventions for ethnic minority populations.