people from around the world talking to each-other

Life with Diabetes Across the Globe: Reflections on the Diabetes World Congress

Six thousand health professionals, researchers, and people with diabetes gathered in Busan, South Korea last December to discuss all things diabetes at the IDF Congress, which is informally referred to as the Diabetes World Conference. I was fortunate enough to be among them.

Diabetes world conference

Unlike other diabetes conferences I’ve attended the IDF Congress was dominated by scientists and doctors, not representatives of the healthcare industry. People affected by diabetes, patients, and their caregivers, were also visibly in attendance and on the stage as speakers. While I was there I spoke with people from every continent (except Antarctica).

It’s hard to sum up the impact of hearing directly from people affected by diabetes from all over the world. Scientists and doctors shared the gee-whiz results of their research and trials along with the mind-numbing details of how they analyze the markers of diabetes. In the same space, people living with diabetes and their caregivers shared their triumphs along with reality-checks on how their daily lives are substantially impacted by diabetes.

It made for some striking contrasts.

Diabetes stories from around the world

How to improve diabetes care through the use of technology drew a lot of interest. Meanwhile, a man, whose country doesn’t have health insurance, talked about his experiences managing his diabetes using only one blood glucose test strip each day. That’s all he could afford.

The importance of having an annual retinal scan eye exam shared the same mind-space as news about a country where people have to travel to the capital city for this eye exam. That’s the only place they have the necessary medical equipment and trained doctors in the whole country.

Presentations on the advances in managing diabetes during pregnancy happened side-by-side with a woman talking about her local doctor advising her to terminate her pregnancy because he didn’t have the knowledge or means to help keep her and her baby healthy. Thankfully, she had the resources and wherewithal to find and travel to a different doctor. Ultimately, she gave birth to a healthy child.

These stories left me feeling grateful and deeply humbled at the same time.

New perspective gained

Access to and affordability of diabetes care are issues worldwide. They aren’t limited to national or regional boundaries. Everywhere the haves can get what they need (and want) more easily than the have-nots. Even in countries with national healthcare systems there are limits on available care and where it can be accessed.

At some point, I realized that the people telling their stories at the Diabetes World Congress represent the haves of their countries. They are the top one percent, so to speak. They are people who have the means or connections to travel and attend an international conference. Their stories, no matter how harrowing, don’t reflect the experiences of the vast majority of people in their countries. Most of their stories came to a triumphant conclusion. I don’t think that can be said for everyone everywhere facing these same challenges.

Upon reflection, my day-to-day challenges seem small. Which is not to dismiss the challenges I face managing my diabetes. But thinking about all the daily struggles people with diabetes face across the globe does give me a new frame of reference.


DISCLOSURE: I was invited to speak at the 2019 IDF Congress by the IDF. They paid for my airfare and hotel while in Busan, South Korea.

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