November 18, 2008
On Thursday, November 18th, I went to the United Nations for a briefing on World Diabetes Day. This was only the second annual briefing on this topic and primarily focused on diabetes in children and adolescents. This annual event came about partially as a result of the International Diabetes Federation’s Unite for Diabetes campaign. The IDF, along with the World Health Organization, created World Diabetes Day in 1991, in response to the growing global pandemic. It was on December 20th, 2006, that the UN passed Resolution 61/255 which officially marked World Diabetes Day as a United Nations world day to be observed each year. November 18th was chosen specifically because it is the birth date of Frederick Banting who, along with Charles Best, discovered insulin in 1921.
The briefing itself consisted of a panel of three people as well as a moderator. Included in the panel were Werner Obermeyer, Deputy to the Executive Director and Senior External Relations Officer, Professor Martin Silink, President of the IDF, and Dr. Larry Deeb, Immediate Past President of the American Diabetes Association. Two other very special speakers made a cameo at this event: twelve year old Kayla Thomas with her Mother, Ms. Sonia Davis, and eleven year old Jake Fine with his Mother, Mrs. Deborah Fine, and Father, Dr. Richard Fine. These two children have been living with type one diabetes for about five years, and spoke inspiringly about the struggles, adjustments, hardships, and sacrifices they have had to make, and the strength with which they must endure them in dealing with their chronic condition. I, along with the rest of the audience, was really moved by these children. I have had type one diabetes for seven years, but seeing the disease and its effects from an outsider’s perspective was different because I wasn’t desensitized in dealing with myself; I was watching someone else with all the emotions that it entails. It was truly motivating.
Besides an in-depth explanation of the differences between type one diabetes -where the body produces no insulin and thus cannot use the energy in food- and type two diabetes –where the body produces insulin but cannot use it as effectively- the speakers discussed how diabetes has become more than a problem, it has become a pandemic. The instances of type one diabetes are rising by 3% per year. To break that statistic down, there are currently about 500,000 children under the age of fifteen living with type one diabetes, and 200 new casesa day. The problems with diabetes are somewhat obvious: finger sticks on an average of four times a day, two-three daily shots, possibility of debilitating high blood sugars (hyperglycemia) or low blood sugars (hypoglycemia), etc. But the rising cases of type one diabetes are not quite so easy to see. Professor Silink explained that there is no known way to prevent type one diabetes (unlike type two which can be avoided or delayed by a healthy lifestyle), and that it is caused by some sort of reaction between a certain genetic disposition and the environment: food, viruses, or possibly a vitamin D deficiency. However, the mystery comes into play in that our genes are not changing, so something in the environment must be. The question is: what?
Next to the physical constrains that diabetes causes, there are financial strains as well. “The commonest cause of deaths in diabetes is a lack of access to insulin.” Humans need insulin to survive, but diabetics do no make insulin. Without access to it, their bodies will begin to shut down and will eventually go into a state of shock called Diabetic Ketoacidosis. When this happens, the body cannot use food, so it breaks down stored fats and creates chemicals called Ketones which upset the body’s natural balance. If left untreated, DKA has a 100% death rate. This is why the IDF has launched a new campaign aimed at bringing diabetic supplies such as insulin to third world and impoverished countries and communities, where insulin is either impossible to afford or impossible to get. The Life for a Child program costs just one dollar a day, and will be able to provide insulin for an additional 30,000 underprivileged children for the next three years! I plan to work with the IDF over the spring semester and develop a program or campaign at Adelphi to help this cause. There is only one way to help the innumerable amounts of children and people living with diabetes, and that is through education and action.
Written by Michelle Consorte ‘12