DISCLAIMER AT THE BEGINNING TODAY

I work for Diabetes Australia and have been involved in our National Diabetes Week campaign. I am referring to this year’s campaign in this post, as well as previous campaigns (which I have also been involved in). This is a commentary piece on what I think works and what doesn’t. This is all my opinion – thoughts my own and mine alone.


It’s National Diabetes Week in Australia this week, and that means the socials are all in the key of D, with lots of news and stories about that little health condition that many of my friends and I know a little bit about.

And campaigns. There are lots of diabetes campaigns.

The other day, I re-watched a lot of old NDW campaigns from years gone by. It was no secret at the time that I wasn’t all that enamoured by some of them. The campaigns that really concerned me was the ones about complications using graphic images of an eye being operated on, or a heart that was (apparently) seriously damaged, or what a kidney looks like when on dialysis. While some people’s concerns about these ads was on the ‘unintended consequence’ of how people already diagnosed with diabetes might feel when seeing these, mine was that have always struggled with isolating body parts from the whole person living with diabetes. It doesn’t work that way – even if we have a diabetes-related complication in one part of our body, it still remains intact and attached to the rest of us. (I think this piece I wrote with Grumps for diaTribe explains best why this is problematic.)

In recent years, I feel that we have become a lot smarter and more systematic about our campaigns. This is as much about the approach to how we have done things, as well as the actual campaigns themselves. Previously, there was a theme and it was rolled out for a year, and one year only. Each new NDW meant a new campaign theme. And then, as soon as the week was over, we shelved it.

It’s not just diabetes organisations that are guilty of throwing all their energy at ‘their’ health week and building up a big campaign that they yell and shout about for the week and then, in a puff of smoke, it all disappears – often never to be heard of again. It’s as though there is a collective sigh and then everyone ticks a box as if ‘that’ issue has been done and doesn’t need to be done again.

Back in 2016, Diabetes Australia ran a campaign called 4,400 Reasons which addressed diabetes-related preventable amputations. There was clear calls to action behind the campaign and one was to highlight the need to reorientate the Australia health system towards early intervention and the implementation of more foot care teams across the country.

The campaign wasn’t graphic – there were no images of amputated limbs or blaming and shaming those who have had a limb amputated. It had a very clear focus on how the system is letting people down – not that people with diabetes were not looking after themselves.

Since then, we have continued to push the message of this campaign. Screening is important and it needs to happen systematically.

And then yesterday, at the start of another NDW, the federal government made an announcement about a new funding initiative that would start to build a national screening and treatment program called ‘Foot Forward’.

That’s how to do it – find a way to address an issue, make it a focus, keep going, continue to push the same messages, talk to the right people, make it happen. We’re not done, by the way. This is the start of a national screening program, but until we know that preventable amputations are happening far less frequently – or not at all – we keep working at the problem.

For this NDW, we are continuing to promote the importance of early diagnosis of both types 1 and 2 diabetes.

Our T1D campaign is the 4Ts and is a community awareness initiative to increase knowledge of the signs and symptoms of T1D.

Why are we doing it again? Because each year there are well over 600 Australians who are diagnosed with diabetes when they are very, very unwell. Most will have already been to the GP once, twice or even more times and have been misdiagnosed. Type 1 diabetes is fatal if it is not diagnosed in time. That’s the bottom line here. Until this stops happening, we need to teach people the 4Ts.

And when it comes to T2D we need a national screening program that means people are not living up to seven years with type 2 diabetes before they are diagnosed. Early diagnosis equals early treatment and that means better outcomes. That is a goal we keep working towards.

What can we learn about how to put together a meaningful public health campaign?

Time and time again, I hear people say, ‘Why can’t you run a campaign about the difference between the types of diabetes?’I want to ask you if you knew what those differences were before you or a loved one was diagnosed with diabetes. Think about other health conditions and just how much you know about the realities of life with those.

When it comes to health messaging, the airwaves are flooded. We have but a second to grab people’s attention. If we only talked diabetes 101 education to the general community, who do you think is really going to listen to that? I reckon it will be people already affected by diabetes – people who already get it. Do you sit there and watch or read about every other public health campaign for conditions that don’t have anything to do with you or someone you know? I know I certainly don’t.

I know nothing about stroke, however did learn FAST – because it was simple and important to know. Have I bothered to learn about what day to day life with someone who has had a stroke is? Or about the different types of stroke? Not really.

This week, you will see a lot of diabetes out there in traditional and social media. Share what you will and can. We already will share the things that are more relevant to our own experience – that makes sense. I’ll admit my bias and say that I am committed to getting the 4Ts message out that you’ll be seeing a lot of that from me. I have heard too many of my type 1 tribe talk about their horrid diagnosis stories.

I keep saying this – I don’t want or need or expect people to know the intricacies of my life with type 1 diabetes. Honestly – I don’t particularly to know that. But I would like people to be diagnosed with type 1 sooner. I would like them to be diagnosed correctly. I would like HCPs to know the 4Ts and have them front and centre.

I don’t want shock campaigns that scare people into inaction. But equally, I don’t want wishy-washy campaigns that offer nothing and have no call to action. I want more campaigns that deliver. And I think we’ve made great strides in that direction.

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