Diabetes in the Wider World by Elizabeth Rowley


My name is Elizabeth Rowley and I have had Type 1 diabetes for over 20 years.

I grew up in the United States in a small town and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of four.

Living with diabetes is a challenge for anyone and has always been a huge burden for me, despite my diligence and hard work, because it is particularly difficult to control. As I got older and learned more about the world outside of my small town, I began to wonder what it might be like to live in another place or what might happen to me if I found myself amidst a natural disaster or conflict of some sort. I discovered that getting my insulin and diabetes supplies would be very difficult in those situations, and I started to think about the many people around the world that actually are in those situations.

There are people living with diabetes in places where access to medical care, supplies (like insulin) and education aren’t easily available or in any way affordable. For some people, life-saving insulin can cost as much as an outrageous 75% of their annual income. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that almost half a million children and young people worldwide now have type 1 diabetes and over 70,000 of them need urgent access to insulin and cannot afford to do so.

Personally, I am outraged and find myself constantly asking how can the world not be aware of these problems and why isn’t more being done? Insulin became widely available in 1922, and yet many people’s lives are cut short because they cannot afford or obtain it.

There has been an incredible impact on decreasing HIV/Aids, so why aren’t we seeing the same response in Non-Communicable diseases like diabetes? I think there are various answers to this question, but a lot of it comes down to lack of awareness and education. So many people do not understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, for example, and when you don’t understand something you tend to forget or ignore it. I want to change that.

My hope is to raise awareness about the people living with Type 1 diabetes who are not as lucky as others: the ones who cannot access test strips to test their blood sugar (something I often take for granted, as I am able to test at least 6 times daily), the ones that suffer Diabetic Ketoacidosis and amputations because they cannot get enough insulin regularly, the ones who have to walk miles to get their diabetic supplies – if they can get the supplies at all….

At t1international.com I write blog posts about my research and share updates, stories, and interviews about Type 1 care, policy, and treatment in places where Type 1 diabetics are often forgotten. I also highlight the good that is going on in regards to these issues so that people can support current initiatives like IDF’s Life for a Child Programme and , the 100 Campaignwhich is an exciting initiative pushing for 100% access to insulin by 2022.

I work as the Volunteer Development Coordinator here at Diabetes UK, and I am so excited to be travelling to Melbourne in November as a volunteer for the International Diabetes Federation’s Young Leaders in Diabetes programme. I will get the chance to meet other Young Leaders from all over the world and hear first-hand about the challenges that diabetics face around the world and what we can all do together to resolve them. I cannot wait to learn more and work with the young leaders to find potential local solutions – and I’ll be blogging all throughout my adventure!

World Diabetes Day is an especially relevant time to think about people living with diabetes across the globe.

Why not inform others about the issues and find a way to get involved in making problems – like access to insulin – a thing of the past?

You might also like

Thanks everyone for the comments! Iain, it would be lovely to meet you in person and thanks for your support. Bob, great to hear from you and thanks for reading! Fiona, you make a great point about wasted supplies. There are programmes like Insulin for Life (http://insulinforlife.org/navigate-to/about-us.html) who take donated, in-date supplies and insulin and distribute them throughout the world. They are in the middle of a Philippines Typhoon Appeal. Insulin for Life does amazing work, but that being said, it only touches a small percent of those who are desparately in need, so more still needs to be done! Keep reading http://www.t1international.com to learn more. :)

Hello Elizabeth,

I am chair of the Barrow support group and recently posted something to you. It’s lovely to see your picture. I am very impressed with the work you are doing and wish you every success in your venture. I look forward to reading more of your campaign. You never know I might get to HQ one day and say hello in person. My friend Rob has just moved down from the North to work there.
Very best wishes for the future.

Iain Bain. Volunteer risk assessor & Local Ambassador.

Hi Elizabeth

You really have highlighted something really important and I admire your commitment. One thing I’ve been increasingly frustrated about are the drugs (including insulin) that are wasted here in the UK. I’m no longer diabetic as I had a pancreas and kidney transplant so I had superfluous drugs, testing strips, testing machines, insulin which, apart from the machines, were all destroyed by the pharmacy as they didn’t know if they had been correctly stored. Doctors are always changing patient regimes and this wastage and expense is shocking as so many people in poorer countries have immense difficulty accessing these live saving drugs.

I look forward to hearing more from you. I am a great campaigner for better footcare having made a video for DUK and speaking at conference………keep up the good work!


This is really great work you are doing to make more people aware of this significant issue for this serious chronic disease that insulin can help control but can really be devastating to those who don’t have access either because of being readily available and/or because they can’t afford the cost. We need to find ways to be more responsive to those needs.

If you ever get in the Bath area I am sure Ryan would love to see you. They don’t have a car so they rely on public transportation or walking to get from place to place and with a family of four do to cost they don’t get into London very often.

One of your “old” friends from Monticello….Bob

so very proud of the work you and John are doing. My grandfather, her brother all had diabetes , and my mother has had it for years. I still struggle to understand it, but have learned more in recent years..

Really upset what u put. My daughter’s type one since age 11. It’s been really hard even living in England. Can’t imagine what u have been through. Keep up the good work. Anything we can do in England? X Deb Ex nurse