Published on 21 December 2022

#DiabetesMeetUp: How access to diabetes care and education can drive improved quality of life

Health inequalities due to scarce resources resulting in limited access to diabetes care, low disease awareness and education still are huge challenges people with diabetes face. Especially in low-resourced countries, diabetes today can still be a deadly disease when no access to diagnosis and therapy are available. 

In early December, Roche Diabetes Care hosted its annual #DiabetesMeetUp for advocates from the diabetes community to reflect on some of these challenges in light of this year’s World Diabetes Day (WDD) theme: Access to Diabetes Care - Education to Protect Tomorrow.

The virtual event was joined by internationally renowned diabetes experts, who shared their insights and experiences on the topic: 

  • João Manuel Valente Nabais, Vice President of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF)
  • Dr Catherine Karekezi, Executive Director of the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance Kenya (NCDAK)
  • Dr Nitchakarn Laichuthai, Clinical Team Lead of the Advanced Diabetes and Diabetes Telehealth Clinic at the King Chulalongkorn Hospital, Bangkok in Thailand
  • Dr Julien Boisdron, Chief Medical Officer and Global Head of OneMedical, Roche Diabetes Care

Behind the scenes of WDD 2022  

As someone living with type 1 diabetes, IDF Vice President João Manuel Valente Nabais understands how important it is to have access to the care and education needed to manage diabetes on a daily basis. It is not lost to him that more than 3 in 4 people with diabetes live in low and middle-income countries1. Several of these areas lack resources to provide diabetes training to healthcare professionals resulting in the inability to make informed treatment decisions with patients. 

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João believes it’s through more robust diabetes management education that people living with diabetes will become empowered to implement a higher standard of care and decision-making for themselves. 

Getting informed is a first step, and he shared various tools and educational resources such as the WDD 2022 campaign and the The IDF School of Diabetes, that can help broaden diabetes education. João encourages as a second step supporting the call to action to policymakers to dedicate sufficient human and financial resources to diabetes education order to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) diabetes coverage targets by 2030. 

João reinforced the power of community in driving change and making an impact : “A campaign like that is only successful if we get together as a diabetes community, or as I like to call it a 'diabetes family.”

Building healthcare capacity to drive access to diabetes screening, care and education in Kenya 

Dr Catherine Karekezi shared details of the Mwanga Access Project, which works to improve access to diabetes care in Meru County, Kenya. She described how the project brings "light" to the county - quite literally, as "mwanga" is the Swahili word for “light.” The programme focuses on two key areas to help people with diabetes manage their condition better: increasing healthcare worker capacity and encouraging self-empowerment. 

The project, an important partnership for Roche Diabetes Care in Africa, trains healthcare professionals and community workers to better understand the early signs and symptoms of diabetes to support more timely diagnosis, equip staff with digital monitoring tools to screen in the community, and empower people with diabetes to manage their condition. With more than 800,000 adult Kenyans living with diabetes, but up to 44% of them still undiagnosed,3 Catherine stressed just how important increasing awareness of risk factors and the signs and symptoms of diabetes is.

Furthermore, the development of community support groups has enabled people with diabetes to come together to share resources as well as learn from and encourage one another. They are also a valuable tool for psycho-social support and to educate on self-management – “Advocacy work is vital for the Mwanga Access Project to succeed. The voice of people living with diabetes is a strong power for change”, Catherine concluded.

The power of tele-health to support people with diabetes in Thailand 

Two years ago, Dr Nitchakarn Laichuthai established a diabetes telehealth clinic at King Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok. The idea was to explore the power of digital solutions in helping her patients better manage their diabetes therapy. With more than six million people in Thailand currently living with diabetes, and the number of cases expected to rise significantly,4 innovative care solutions have never been more crucial.

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Low staffing levels and a limited number of diabetes educators mean that clinicians can only spend 5 -10 minutes with each patient, Nitchakarn shared, which is not sufficient for providing an adequate consultation – especially if a patient is presenting multiple secondary complications. According to Nitchakarn, telehealth can effectively address some of these challenges by:

  • Offering tele-follow-ups to review blood glucose logs
  • Educating on how daily habits influence blood glucose levels and can contribute to the development of secondary complications
  • Identifying individual goals and creating personalised therapy plans

A popular local text messaging app is also used to deliver visual educational content, which is being very well received by patients. 

Although face-to-face consultations remain invaluable, Nitchakarn feels overall “very positive about the future of diabetes care as we are seeing an increase in tele-health solutions and educational content being developed.” 

Collaboration is key: Implementing sustainable healthcare structures for better access to care 

The challenges that diabetes poses on individuals, caregivers, healthcare providers and society are vast - with awareness, education, healthcare capacity and funding at the root of it. Out of the more than 537 million people living with diabetes only about 50% are diagnosed. Of these, only about 50% have access to the most essential tools for managing diabetes5. For Dr Julien Boisdron, this is clearly a call for a collaborative approach aimed at multiple targets, to limit the burden of diabetes. 

“At Roche Diabetes Care, broadening access to care and addressing health inequalities is at our core and we are dedicated to expanding reach so more people can benefit from the support we provide together with our partners, NGOs, HCPs, policymakers, and patient advocate networks. Uniting our efforts, we continuously look for ways to make an impact and provide true relief to people with diabetes, caregivers and healthcare professionals. We will continue to engage in strong and lasting partnerships around the globe to cocreate sustainable healthcare structures, raise awareness and broaden access to innovative technologies as well as affordable care for people with diabetes - irrespective of where they live.” 

1World Diabetes Day. Facts & Figures (2022). Available from: https://worlddiabetesday.org/about/facts-figures/ 
2Support call to action to policymakers; Available from: https://worlddiabetesday.org/educationtoprotect/ (Accessed December 2022)
3International Diabetes Federation. IDF Diabetes Atlas in Kenya. Available from: https://diabetesatlas.org/data/en/country/104/ke.html. (Accessed December 2022) 
4International Diabetes Federation. IDF Diabetes Atlas in Thailand. Available from: https://diabetesatlas.org/data/en/country/196/th.html. (Accessed December 2022)
5IDF Diabetes Atlas 10th ed., International Diabetes Federation, 2021 | Adults (20-79) | Seagrove Partners, 2021 | Publicised sales reports of relevant companies