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Envisioning the Future of Type 1 Diabetes Care: How Global Partnerships Can Make Lasting Change

Gina Agiostratidou
Gina Agiostratidou

Type 1 Diabetes Program Director

Over the past century, we have seen significant strides made in the field of diabetes care and research. But these breakthroughs are still out of reach for so many people around the world, and type 1 diabetes (T1D)  remains a life-threatening emergency for far too many. Though this disparity can often be disheartening, certain moments remind me of the power of collaboration for progress.

This May, at the World Health Assembly, leaders from across the globe came together to discuss the most pressing issues in health. Helmsley was honored to host Advancing Equity: Global Action for People Living with Diabetes (pictured above), a panel event focused on the Global Diabetes Compact (GDC), the World Health Organization’s framework for aligning governments, private businesses, civil society, and people with lived experience to address the challenges of diabetes.

While there are a number of global goals or frameworks for other diseases, the GDC is the first of its kind for diabetes. Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Noncommunicable Diseases Division at WHO, shared that it has already led to increased activity on T1D around the world, while more and more partners are looking to invest in this issue since its launch in 2021. Earlier this year, Helmsley joined their ranks, announcing a $10 million grant to WHO to further implement the GDC.

The World Health Assembly offered the chance to hear from those partners and the Helmsley grantees bringing the GDC to life across siloes and sectors. Hearing the panelists’ insights not only provided a clearer snapshot of the current landscape of diabetes, but revitalized the entire room on what could be done moving forward. Throughout the discussion, a few key themes emerged.

The Salience of Partner Voices

T1D does not exist in a vacuum. Yes – Helmsley is deeply invested in this issue, and we will continue investing until everyone, everywhere, has access to the highest quality care and medicines available. But if we expect to achieve this, we must prioritize integrated solutions.

As Dr. Benido Impouma, Director of Universal Health Coverage, Communicable & Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO AFRO), said, “We should not be looking at diabetes as a single disease, so an integrated people management approach to care is critical.” This is where initiatives like PEN-Plus come in, a strategy that trains providers in remote communities to diagnose and treat a suite of severe noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Through collaboration at all levels of the health system, Benido and the WHO AFRO team are currently leading the roll out of PEN-Plus to countries to provide decentralized, integrated care.

But providing this type of care becomes increasingly complex in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Stéphane Besancon, CEO of Santé Diabète, reminded us of the importance of strong local partners and the work it takes to build relationships with partners in these settings. “We continue to work effectively because we have a partnership with everybody in the field.”

The Imperative of Cross-Sector Solutions

Moreover, we cannot deliver high-quality care without access to high-quality diabetes medicines and supplies in every market and community. Helmsley grantees are facing this challenge head-on by pursuing tailored approaches that match private sector interests with the needs of people living with T1D in emerging markets — “country by country, product by product,” said Nine Steensma at CHAI. Nine’s team is helping to end the days of supply rationing. But while there’s been increased attention on insulin, Nine remarked that it’s the “broader package [of diabetic medicines and supplies] that eventually leads to health outcomes that we want to see for everyone.” This includes medicines, syringes, pens, glucometers, test strips, and more.

The Importance of Coming Together 

In our discussions about the best way to champion the needs of those living with T1D and NCDs, we must always consider the need to treat the person and not the disease. The GDC actively involves people living with diabetes as co-leaders and co-designers of solutions, recognizing the importance of their voices and expertise in shaping the agenda. We can better address the root issues by empowering organizations embedded in the community to offer tailored local support. As someone living with T1D, Dr. Apoorva Gomber, Associate Advocacy Director at the NCDI Poverty Network, said, “We have solutions. We need people to support those solutions, those commitments.”

The Way Forward

It may have taken 100 years of research to reach this point, but we don’t need to wait for 100 more for these life-saving innovations to get to the rest of the world. During this event, I was reminded that when dialogue reaches across sectors and takes a holistic approach, we can realize many of our goals.

Real impact means turning these words into actions – so I am grateful for WHO’s steadfast commitment to global progress and accountability. On behalf of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, thank you to the entire Noncommunicable Diseases Unit for lighting the shared way ahead. We look forward to working side-by-side with WHO, NCDI Poverty Network, Sante Diabete, CHAI, and all our other Global Access partners to usher in an era that finally advances equity for every person living with diabetes.

Let’s build that future together.