By Liz Rowley
What if you had to choose between feeding your family or paying for your insulin and medical supplies? What would life with type 1 diabetes be like if you lived somewhere where resources and healthcare facilities are lacking or if you found yourself amidst a natural disaster or warzone? These are the questions I began to ask myself as I grew up and learned more about the world outside of my small hometown. I discovered that getting my insulin and diabetes supplies would be very difficult – maybe impossible – in those situations. This led me to recognise that there are many people around the world who actually are in those situations. We need to do something about it.
The International Diabetes Federation’s latest estimate (2013) noted that 80-100,000 children and youth around the world are in urgent need of assistance for their diabetes. I would guess that this measure is a rough estimate at best, as we know many people die before they are even diagnosed with diabetes in some locations. Additionally, the above number does not include adults with type 1 diabetes, so there is an obvious and alarming need when it comes to people around the world accessing their diabetes care, supplies and treatment. For example, some people living with diabetes face costs as much as an outrageous 75 per cent of their annual income for their life-saving insulin.
Personally, I am outraged by the situation and find myself constantly questioning why more is not being done. In the United Kingdom and the United States, we are lucky enough to say that (for the most part) a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is no longer a death sentence. Why does the world seem so unaware of the fact that diabetes actually still is a death sentence for so many?
My hope is to raise awareness about the people living with type 1 diabetes who are not as lucky as others. I want others to know about my friends in Togo, the Dominican Republic, India, Nigeria and other parts of the world who struggle to access test strips for testing their blood sugar (something I often take for granted, as I am able to test at least 6 times daily). I want the diabetes community and the global community to also be outraged that some of these friends will soon be ineligible to receive their insulin either due to age limits on giveaways or lack of employment. I want to make sure we face the fact people with diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) regularly suffer diabetic ketoacidosis and amputations because they cannot get enough insulin regularly or because they have to walk miles to get their diabetic supplies – if they can get the supplies at all.
At t1international.com I have created a space to share updates, stories, and interviews about type 1 care, policy, and treatment in places where type 1 diabetics are often forgotten. I work with organisations addressing these issues worldwide and also try to highlight the good that is being done by various initiatives. T1International has become an advocacy movement, pairing up with other great efforts to launch the #insulin4all campaign this past World Diabetes Day. I am confident that the awareness and advocacy will continue to grow as the reality of the burden of a lack of access to essential diabetes management tools gains recognition.
JDRF’s mission is to find a cure for type 1 diabetes and I am 100 per cent behind that mission. My hope is that in the meantime, these life and death issues can be addressed by the diabetes and global community so that when a cure is found it will be available to everyone who needs it.