Last week, I spent three and a half days in Paris at the Advanced Technologies and Treatments for Diabetes (ATTD) international conference. It was the 10th ATTD meeting, and the first that I had attended. I have been to my fair share of diabetes conferences both here and around the world, but this one was definitely different. The narrow focus on technology meant that most of the attendees shared an affinity for tech-geekiness.
I was there as part of the Roche Blogger Networking #DiabetesMeetup event, (my disclosures are at the end of this post), which was a remarkable day with about 40 bloggers from across Europe. Lots more about that in coming days.
As I sat in sessions and wandered around the exhibition hall, I found myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable. The combination of being enthused, enthralled and excited (alliteration!!) at new tech and treatment advances sat trickily alongside nagging and constant reflection about the categorically un-level playing field that is diabetes around the world.
How could I happily be sitting there, hearing about automated insulin delivery devices, the value of CGM use, implantable CGM sensors that last for 90 days and big data when I had just spent weeks imploring people to donate to Spare a Rose, Save a Child? I am an ambassador for Insulin for Life Global and despair at the thought that people are dying because they can’t access insulin. And even in first world countries, access to insulin is, for some, not a given, and the thought of accessing the sorts of technologies I was hearing about may as well be a fairy-tale.
The divide between those of us in the room – those able to use the technology – and those for whom access to any sort of diabetes tech was gaping and seems to be getting bigger by the minute.
I walked out of a brilliant session about automated clinical decision support systems. It was morning tea time, so there was a break in sessions and I thought I’d find a quiet corner to try to get my head straight about how I was feeling. I looked up and there was Professor Alicia Jenkins. I knew that she was just the person to help me sort myself out!
Alicia is an Australian endocrinologist. She is a remarkable clinician, researcher and one of the best presenters on diabetes I have ever heard. Plus, she is a lovely, lovely person. Alicia is also the President of Insulin for Life Global.
I mentioned to her how uneasy I was feeling and she agreed, but with typical (and welcome) Alicia reflection, she helped me find some perspective. She reminded me that most people at the conference are very conscious of the divide, and that even while talking about the latest advances, there was still a lot of talk about access and reimbursement. There was acknowledgement that the divide is real and needs to be addressed. I looked at her – someone who is such a huge advocate for, and expert in, technology and new treatments – and realised that, actually, we can be across both aspects of diabetes care; that just because we are excited about the latest (and expensive) technologies doesn’t mean we don’t care and want to do something to help improve access of basic diabetes supplies.
By the end of the conference, on the very long trip home, I kept thinking back to our conversation. I realised that as much as it would make things simpler, I just can’t compartmentalise my own diabetes situation and how I feel about access for others. I struggle with this, because one of the really important things for me to have done all the time I’ve worked in the diabetes space has been to separate my own experience from others’.
But in this instance I can’t just leave it at ‘this is my experience and this is someone else’s’ and I think that may actually be a positive. I do find it uncomfortable. I feel guilty that I can afford and access whatever I need when so many cannot. I feel it in Australia amongst my peers and I feel it when I read about those in other countries. (Really, you should read the brilliant profiles T1 International are sharing at the moment, which give a beautifully (and sometimes harsh) personal perspective to access issues.)
I struggle with my privilege and have a constant feeling that I am not doing enough. But these feelings are a good thing. Because I can always do more. I SHOULD always do more.
I will never stop writing about these issues here and elsewhere, or talking about them. I will keep putting my money where my mouth is, because words are not enough. And I will keep advocating, using my voice and working with people trying to make a difference, until there is no difference at all between what we can all access.
Because it’s still February, I would like to urge you again to please, if you can, make a donation to the Spare a Rose campaign. For the cost of one rose (about AUD$6), you can provide insulin for a month to a child in a developing country. (Also, I should mention that last week, I was invited to join the Spare a Rose, Save a Child team; an invitation I accepted immediately.)
My flights and accommodation costs to attend the Roche Blogger #DiabetesMeetUp were covered by Roche Diabetes Care (Global). They also provided me with press registration to attend ATTD. My agreement to attend their blogger day did not include any commitment from me, or expectation from them, to write about the day or their products, however I will be sharing my thoughts on the event here. Plus, you can read my live tweets from the event via my Twitter stream.