World Diabetes Day 2013 is dedicated to the devastation of the Philippines and the tragic loss of lives.
It’s difficult to think about diabetes when people are also trying to survive without access to food, water and shelter, but in the days ahead after much needed essential aid is deployed and ground crews are able to reach survivors, managing acute and chronic illness will become a priority. Helping people to manage and care for diabetes will be of a part of that effort.
“This is a life and death situation for those relying on insulin to stay alive,” says Ron Raab, President of Insulin for Life, a non-profit organization that donates diabetes supplies to over 83 countries around the world, often sending supplies in response to emergency requests or as part of ongoing sustainability programs.
People who live with diabetes depend on insulin and have a limited period of time to sustain life without medically necessary medicines: insulin, clean syringes, oral medication, antibiotics, antiseptic for wounds, kidney dialysis and so much more. One organization focused on getting much needed diabetes supplies to areas most affected by super typhoon Haiyan is Insulin for Life (IFL).
According to Raab, supplies are getting in, “We have sent donated insulin and supplies to the Cebu area of the Philippines, close to the area of devastation caused by super typhoon Haiyan.” One of his volunteers, Juvy Holasca confirmed a number of shipments sent to Cebu the 13th November which will reach patients in the next few days.
The Philippines has had its fair share of tragedy in recent weeks. It was only last month that a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the City of Cebu, killing 150 people. The layering of devastation is taking its toll. It is also key to point out that even before the earthquake or super typhoon Haiyan hit this region of the Philippines, there were people living with diabetes on these outer islands already struggling with access to insulin and other supplies like glucose monitors, syringes and other testing equipment. In a special report made last month, IFL Board member Neil Donelan visited the region during the Earthquake and observed how,
“Diabetes to the most extent is largely undiagnosed in the Philippines. The lack of awareness, education, and the cost of prevention, is virtually unknown. Resources are at a premium, and people simply cannot afford to buy insulin.”
Haiyan has made what was already a challenging situation regarding medical care and essential medicines, even more tragic.
Below shipments of diabetes supplies received by a hospital in Dumaguete, province of Negros Oriental, south of Cebu. Since the Earthquake in September, IFL has donated nearly $60,000 Australian dollars worth of insulin, lancets, syringes, test strips and more to the area.
Earlier today, I had the chance to speak to four women in Melbourne (AU) who have spent the last 5 days tirelessly volunteering for Insulin for Life by collecting donations and packing up supplies for shipments. They are talking to the doctors on the ground in Cebu and helping to assess what is most needed. Juvy Holasca, Amabelle Gayo, Jyle Albano and Chaty Harris are either from the region where super typhoon Haiyan hit or have family and friends there. Nearly all of the women are qualified nurses (Juvy is currently studying and also had a prominent role in connecting Insulin for Life to the Cebu region). Juvy was in the Philippines with IFL Directors Ron Raab and Neil Donelan last month to help bring aid in the Bohol province where Cebu is located.
Talking to IFL Volunteers (From left to right bottom: Juvy, Amabelle and Jyle – Chaty is standing behind)
What are you sending to Cebu City now? What is the greatest issue?
Juvy: Insulin is the priority although disposable syringes are very expensive and hard to get. The types of insulin that are most used are Lantus, Novomix, Mixtard, and Protophane (Humulin NPH).
Chaty: We also sent glucometers, lancets, test strips and syringes.
Amabelle: Another issue is that there are so few medical professionals to help in the areas affected by the typhoon. Patients are uneducated about diabetes and are terrified of insulin. Medical professionals are needed to help treat the patients who can’t help themselves.
Cebu is where all the Aid workers and supplies are coming in and considered aid headquarters. Who are you working with primarily in Cebu?
Juvy: We are working with Sweet Alert Inc. who is in charge of the distribution of insulin to indigent patients in Cebu. This effort is spearheaded by Consul Armi Garcia and Dr. Marian Denopol. Sweet Alert is a non-for-profit organization linked to IFL-Australia for aid and assistance efforts in Cebu. Dr. Marian Denopol is the organization’s Chief Endocrinologist and her clinic is located at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center – outpatient department in Cebu City. Dr Denopol knows first-hand how hard access was for many people to get insulin before typhoon Haiyan, but matters are infinitely more critical now.
Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Centre is an 800 Bed Hospital, which has a workforce of 800 people, 115 medical staff and 80 Doctors, and treats 600 outpatients. It is a Provincial Hospital that caters to the public all over the Cebu Province (population of 6.8 million).
Can you report any serious events related to diabetes?
Juvy: I think the issue is that people are proritizing needs for food and water and shelving, maybe even hiding diabetes. In the days ahead the needs will really come out and doctors will be struggling to deliver all the essential medicines required by people who have diabetes.
To make matters worse, total diabetes figures are under-reported in the region and now with all records washed away, there is little hope of knowing who needs what. Fortunately, people like Dr. Denopol are not giving up. Without organisational help from A Sweet Alert and Dr. Denopol, Insulin for Life would have a hard time helping at all, which validates the importance of local organizational assistance in communities worldwide. Juvy and her team believe sustainability is a concern, too.
“There will be a great need for assistance from donations in the months ahead. What we need is a source of insulin for a long time, at least until the people of this region get their feet back on the ground.”
Insulin for Life collects insulin and test strips and donates them overseas following specific requests from recognized organizations, with an agreed protocol. The donated insulin must be unopened, no longer needed and in-date, with at least four months to the use-by date. Since it began in 1984, Insulin for Life has donated diabetes supplies to over 83 countries around the world, often sent in response to emergency requests or as part of ongoing sustainability programs. There are IFL affiliates in Europe and North America.