by Ann Keeling, CEO, International Diabetes Federation
In March 1966, Martin Luther King Jr., the man who is known for having transformed our social justice landscape, gave a speech saying “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
And yet today, 56 years later, health inequality is still at deplorable and alarming levels and is killing on a grand scale. Millions of people are suffering and dying needlessly from diseases like diabetes as a result of the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work, and age.
For the International Diabetes Federation, the pursuit of social justice and health equity is at the core of our mission to promote diabetes care, prevention and a cure worldwide. It is our moral duty to protect the rights and opportunities of all 366 million people living with diabetes, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender or age.
It is undoubtedly a global challenge, as inequalities are rife in every corner of the world, and for this reason IDF launched the first ever International Charter of Rights and Responsibilities of People with Diabetes last year. But while health inequity is a global phenomenon, it is particularly prevalent in some communities. Indigenous communities are one of these and for IDF this will be a priority in the coming years.
Indigenous people suffer from poorer health, are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life and ultimately die younger than their non-indigenous counterparts. According to the UN, a shocking 50% of indigenous adults over age 35 have type 2 diabetes and these numbers are predicted to rise.
This epidemic is undeniably driven by extreme poverty, and underpinned by a lack of access to education, unemployment, forced displacement, and the degradation of their customary land and waters. It is further aggravated by the lack of access to quality health care - most indigenous people around the world are never diagnosed; they never receive treatment for diabetes and die from the condition without knowing the reason for their suffering.
While the situation is undoubtedly alarming and seriously unjust, it is not hopeless. Just six months ago, IDF succeeded in securing articles on indigenous people in the UN Summit’s Political Declaration on NCD Prevention and Control.
These political commitments were a major achievement. Now it is our responsibility to ensure they get translated into action at the local level. For this reason, this week we are kick starting a dedicated roadmap of action for indigenous people. It will build on IDF’s previous work in this important issue and will draw upon IDF’s unique expertise and capacity as a global federation.
Our activities begin on Thursday when we are co-hosting an expert meeting with the World Diabetes Foundation on Indigenous Peoples, Diabetes and Development in Copenhagen on the 1-2 March. Following this, we will use position statements, the Diabetes Atlas and Diabetes Voice to raise awareness and build the outrage that diabetes among indigenous peoples so desperately deserves. Our efforts will culminate with our World Diabetes Congress in Melbourne in 2013 where for the first time we will have a dedicated programme stream on indigenous people.
We hope that through culturally-sensitive collaboration and sheer determination, we can reduce health disparities and the unnecessary and unfair suffering of our indigenous communities worldwide.