Last month I attended the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) World Congress in Melbourne. This was the largest diabetes conference ever held in Australia — with over10,000 clinicians, researchers, industry representatives and patients from 140 countries. And I felt a change in the air.
I sense this small, global, Belgium-based 40-staff member association that represents more than 200 member countries is outfitting itself to put speed and muscle behind halting diabetes’ ravage around the world.
From the formation of its “Young Leaders in Diabetes” (YLD) Programme to the hiring of its new CEO and president — both with decades experience in health care (yet outside of medicine, in technology and politics, respectively) — there seems a stronger focus on strategic leadership and more clear-cut goals to achieve.
First, the time is ripe. As I was told by Leonor Guariguata, IDF coordinator for the recently released Diabetes Atlas, diabetes is beginning to act like a contagious disease. As poorer nations’ populations of working age are falling under the diabetes-bus, so to speak, rising costs of care, decreasing productivity and the pricing and availability of food, medicine and health care for diabetes will affect all of us.
My introduction to the conference was participating in the Young Leaders in Diabetes Leadership Training. As YLD Leadership Training Faculty, under the sponsorship of Novo Nordisk, I and several noted diabetes experts helped these young people with diabetes be more effective advocates.
The Young Leaders in Diabetes Programme was formed by IDF two years ago as a voice for young people with diabetes and to strengthen their local diabetes associations. The group has already almost doubled in size from 68 to 132 and includes representation from 74 countries’ young leaders.
Alex Silverstein, outgoing president of the YLD, says much of the success of the group was learning from each other’s experience and being supported to work on a project relevant to their skills and country’s needs. Silverstein himself fundraised 100,000 pounds for three projects he manned for Diabetes UK.
Silverstein believes passionate and committed young people with diabetes can have great impact at the local level with their member associations, with health care professionals and the public worldwide.
The YLD’s new president, Keegan Hall from South Africa, told me in the past two years 50 Young Leaders have executed at least one project in their country. Keegan aims to create a stronger support structure and advocacy tools for the Young Leaders.
Lest you think these projects are insignificant, you’d be wrong. One Young Leader from Zimbabwe organized a group of volunteers for a diabetes awareness campaign. They distributed informational material about diabetes in the five largest shopping malls in Zimbabwe. More than a thousand people were reached, many said the information was entirely new to them and many got their blood sugar tested for the first time.
From young leaders to new leaders, IDF’s recently appointed CEO, Petra Wilson, begins her stewardship intent to expand e-health options as part of IDF’s objective to empower people with diabetes. “E-technologies will give patients critical information to make informed decisions, advance diabetes education and extend health care providers’ reach.” Wilson formerly led connected health teams at Cisco and the European Commission in Health.
Wilson also sees the potential for “big data,” huge volumes of data from thousands of sources, to be linked to lifestyle data to create health care policies that benefit those living with diabetes.
Sir Michael Hirst stepped into IDF as president 18 months ago and is drawing on his political career. He’s established the first Parliamentary Champions for Diabetes Forum.
One task of the Parliamentary Champions will be to working together to represent the interest of people with diabetes in policy making. Another will be to review and assess the commitments made by Heads of States and governments after the UN High Level summiton non-communicable diseases. Said Sir Michael, “This review provides an opportunity for stock-taking on progress, including sharing successes, lessons learned, opportunities, and recommendations to shape the future of diabetes and guide us forward.”
Sir Michael is also the father of a daughter with Type 1 diabetes and had no problem recently urging Secretary General Margaret Chan of the WHO that the resources dedicated to diabetes aren’t nearly enough.
I wait to see what this dynamic organization will accomplish going forward. Meanwhile I think of that refrain from the classic children’s book, The Little Engine That Could.
As the tiny locomotive chugged up the mountain saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” personally, I think the IDF just might.
Originally published in The Huffington Post.