Over 400 million people around the world suffer from one of two types of diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease characterized by a lack of insulin production, while Type 2 is a condition in which the body does produce some insulin, but cannot use that insulin in an efficient manner. With no known cure for either type of diabetes, patients need medical expertise, drugs, and other supplies to maintain their health.
While diabetes exists across every geographic, ethnic, and racial subgroup, the quality of care varies significantly. In low and middle-income countries, diabetes care is often decidedly “suboptimal,” largely because of the high costs involved in managing the disease.
Most people attribute “diabetes” to high-sugar diets, overweight, and lack of exercise. While diet and weight do influence the onset of type 2 diabetes, there is a genetic component as well. Type 1 diabetes, moreover, is not caused by lifestyle factors. Its causes are in fact unknown, but some populations seem more genetically disposed than others. Lifestyle is not a factor. Type 1 can be managed through regular injections of insulin delivered either through a hypodermic needle to the arm or leg, or an “insulin pump,” an expensive computer that sits on the patient’s belt and delivers insulin through a tube and micro-catheter inserted with a needle every few days.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are chronic illnesses. Type 1 is especially expensive to treat, as insulin and blood glucose testing equipment are wildly overpriced in comparison to average incomes in most countries. Type 2 diabetes may be a little cheaper to care for, as insulin is not always needed, but the burden of care is still considerable.
Charitable groups such as Life for a Child, an Australia-based group I have done work for, provide insulin and other vital supplies to under-resourced patients in low-income countries. Still, systematic solutions can only come from each country’s ministry of health, as only these bodies have the resources, capacity, and legitimacy to offer long-term, reliable access to insulin, blood glucose testing equipment, oral medications, and other vital treatments. International organizations and global charities can help, but a long-term, stable solution needs to come from within.