At this time three years ago, I was returning from my first trip to Haiti. It was only six weeks after the devastating earthquake. I returned for my second trip a year later.
I was watching on Facebook over the past few days as the group I traveled with returned from their last trip trying to look through every picture for the familiar faces of the children.
I miss everything about being there.
The first time I was there, I did not think about international diabetes advocacy at all. The more immediate needs of assisting in the provision of food, shelter, and emergency medical care were far more urgent.
On my second trip, the reality of living with diabetes in Haiti became more apparent to me. As we painted houses for displaced families to move into, I noticed that there was not any stable source of electricity in the area. The homes did not have anything that resembles the kitchens we are familiar with in the rest of the world. How would someone with diabetes store his or her insulin? The meals are high in carbohydrates because carbohydrates (e.g. rice) are cheap and they preserve well.
There wasn’t much evidence of diabetes in the medical clinic I visited. A little bit of insulin and a meter or two. I was able to leave some supplies behind, not a lot but considering the situation I think any little bit made a difference.
I have shared this story before, but it definitely puts things into perspective for me. Shortly after my return from the second trip I was speaking to an executive at a diabetes supply company.
He shared how the company offered to send products that would help to keep insulin cool for people with diabetes in the area. They spoke to several medical clinics and health programs and could not find anyone to take their product. Why? He was told that people with diabetes who required insulin were not living long enough to use it.
As I debate political strategies and ill-conceived marketing campaigns (and even laugh at the subsequent parodies and satires), I need to remember that people are still dying every day in the United States and around the world from lack of adequate medical care. Yes, I need a cure. But I also need to help people live long enough to see it.
I fully support the work of Life for a Child but I wonder what else we, as a diabetes community, are capable of? As our numbers are growing in voice and in power, there has to be more we can do!