Tackling new challenges, together – by Chris Askew

The pandemic is putting strain and jeopardy into each of our lives. But for people living with any type of diabetes, COVID-19 spells very real alarm and challenge.

chris askew

At the extreme, this is demonstrated by the fact that those with diabetes are likely to experience more severe symptoms from COVID-19 and consequently have a higher chance of death. A recent study found that 30% of all COVID-19 related deaths occurred in someone with diabetes (1).

Managing your diabetes – which in ‘normal times’ is a constant balancing act – has become many times harder as a result of needing to maintain social distance at work and potentially at home, difficulty getting certain types of food, or not being able to access the clinical support and the regular checks and tests which can tell you how you’re doing or alert you to a health complication.

Diabetes of all types, serially downplayed as a non-threatening – or worse – a self-inflicted illness, is finally being seen for the very serious condition it is, though this was never the sort of limelight anyone living with, or affected by, diabetes would have wished for.

Over the last 6 months, the charity I lead, Diabetes UK, has been at absolute full stretch, responding each week to thousands of calls, emails and social media posts to provide support with the many things which might give someone with diabetes cause for worry.

The pandemic has challenged us to act with and for people living with diabetes, their carers and clinicians in ways we could never have predicted. We have brought together the voices of thousands of people with diabetes in calling upon government for better protections at work; we’ve mailed tens of thousands of information leaflets directly to people’s homes; we’ve staged online seminars and webinars for people living with diabetes, for family members and carers and for healthcare professionals; and we’ve funded urgently needed research into the effects of COVID-19 on different aspects of diabetes.

Like many other charities, we have all this time walked the tightrope of financial uncertainty, and have witnessed our supporters and fundraisers going the extra mile to raise funds for our work (and in doing so, you have so inspired those of us working here at Diabetes UK).

I have been truly humbled to receive an Honour in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours list; recognition which rightly sits on the shoulders of all my colleagues and of those in the wider Diabetes UK family who fundraise for us, partner with us in our work, volunteer for us, or support us as members. There is no better time for any awareness to our cause that this award may prompt, and to highlight all that needs to be done to support the 4.8 million people who are living with diabetes in the UK today.

We have much work to do, but we’re clear in our determination and our focus:

  • We need more research into the effects of COVID-19 on diabetes, so we can better protect people and treat the condition.
  • We need more information, and direct services and transparentpharmacy.net support for those in ethnic minority populations, and in areas of social and economic deprivation, where we know the risk factors associated with diabetes are greatest.
  • We need fresh thinking in how we re-introduce the specialist NHS care which everyone with diabetes needs access to at some point.
  • We need far greater progress from industry and government in tackling an environment in which it’s easier and cheaper to buy and eat the food which is the least good for our health.
  • We need greater investment to ensure that anyone who might benefit, can have access to the exciting new technologies which are transforming the experience of living with diabetes.
  • We need a step back from the stigmatising headlines and policies which do nothing to advance the health and wellbeing of anyone with diabetes, be that Type 1 or Type 2.

If – in the final reckoning of this pandemic – we learn one thing, my hope is that diabetes is recognised for the serious condition it is, and that people living with or at risk of diabetes receive the information, services and understanding they need to live well and to live long.

(1) ‘Associations of type 1 and type 2 diabetes with COVID-19-related mortality in England: a whole-population study’ Lancet Aug 2020

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