Article by Gavin Griffiths, ‘The DiAthlete’
World Diabetes Day, led by the International Diabetes Federation, takes place every year on the birth date of Dr. Frederick Banting, a scientist who was born in Alliston, Canada in 1891, and founded the use of insulin on humans.
Aside from myself, you might not necessarily find people with diabetes popping the champagne cork and toasting one to “Freddy-Boy”, but Banting’s discovery in 1922 has been a key factor towards keeping millions of people alive for the past 92 years.
Diabetes is a disease where the pancreas fails to produce the hormone called insulin, or enough of it.
This means that glucose is unable to enter body-cells and runs a riot in the blood, rocketing high the
body’s blood glucose levels. Diabetes can also occur through insulin resistance, where the insulin
produced does not work properly. There’re a variety of types in diabetes, which can be misleading to
a large extent. Approximately 88% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes largely develops through insulin resistance, as the body becomes less able to
respond to insulin. It is more common for people to be over the age of 30 when diagnosed with type
2; this can be genetic but dramatic increases toward diagnosis in recent times are associated with
body-weight related issues and poor health.
On the other hand, perhaps the lesser publicly known is type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is not
associated with excess body weight by any means and diagnosis occurs after the body’s immune
system attacks and kills the beta-cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin.
This means that people with type 1 have to continuously monitor their blood glucose levels through
finger-pricking tests and control levels through the appropriate amounts of insulin intake various
times per day, by way of either insulin pump therapy or multiple daily injections.
Life with type 1, as I know full well through 15 years experience with it, takes a lot of decision-
making. People with type 1 diabetes have to know what activities might take place each day in order
to anticipate how much insulin they need – an example, going for a long run and needing less insulin.
For every meal a person with type 1 diabetes has to know what they are putting into their body,
figuring out the amount of carbohydrates in order to counteract it with the appropriate amount of
insulin. Basically, in living with diabetes you become a mathematical genius!
With 15 years of enhanced mathematical abilities, in consideration to the fact that it was 92 years
ago Dr. Banting made the discovery of insulin for humans, coinciding with the current world today
where there are still people living without access to insulin, I have one answer: this is not
Roughly a year ago I embarked upon a journey to Melbourne, Australia, where I represented the UK
as an international young leader in diabetes. There I was joined by fellow young leaders from all
around the world and it opened up my eyes to the deep struggles for people with diabetes.
I learned that in areas of India the statistics reflect that 85% of people with childhood diagnosis to type 1
diabetes die before the age of 25.
I was diagnosed as a child; this would mean I’d be lucky to survive another 2 years if I was born over there.
I have friends in various areas of Africa who are restricted to the crucial supplies they can receive and
then face further challenges, such as keeping insulin from expiring in the heat.
I heard of some locations in East Asia where diagnosis to diabetes is
viewed ‘dishonourably’, deeming people unfit for work or marriage.
Recent media reports have suggested that a ‘cure’ is soon on the way. Exactly how or exactly when is
not precisely proclaimed… there is reason for this, a cure is not yet here.
Although I support the
need for a cure as something that goes without saying, my suggestion is for more time to be spent
on the real problems people are facing with diabetes in the world and how we can address them,
rather than sharing out false hopes or yet-to-be-completed studies.
Let the researchers get on with
their work, as Dr. Banting did back in the day, and once they find the results we will know about it. If
it has taken 92 years and still people struggle for access for insulin in areas, how many years will it be
after a cure is found before all people in the world have access to that too?
Living in the UK, where in total according to Diabetes UK there are over 3.2 million people living with
diabetes (all types), I see myself as fortunate with the care we have over here.
It may not always be plain-sailing, particularly when coming up against certain healthcare professionals with egos far
heightened than their diabetes education, but nonetheless we have a good NHS system and access
to the crucial resources we need in order to survive.
Diabetes isn’t fortunate wherever you are in the world but I share a philosophy of Livabetes if you like,
taking the positives against the negative of diagnosis.
Here are some from my personal life: the hundreds of people I have met around the globe each
affected by diabetes but each incredibly inspiring and now good friends of mine; the diabetes
community is the strongest out there.
In 2012, I ran with the Olympic Flame, carrying the London
2012 Olympic Torch in front of thousands. In 2013 I ran from John O’Groats to Lands End, proof that
with education and resources available anything is possible. By keeping positive with diabetes I am
more motivated to achieve in life.
Every person deserves a chance at life; with diabetes every person deserves access to essentials such
as insulin in order to take that chance.