We put Sir Michael Hirst, IDF President, in the spotlight this quarter. Find out how he plans to increase the Federation’s presence around the globe and what past experiences have ignited and inspired his passion to tackle diabetes.
1. How did you become involved with diabetes?
My youngest child was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of five, in 1985. I became aware of the shortcomings in treatment and care, and in particular the lack of disposable syringes and blood glucose monitoring strips on prescription in the UK. As a Member of Parliament, I was in a position to campaign for them.
At a time when very few people were prepared to campaign openly for the cause of diabetes, I invoked the help of the Prime Minister to cut through the red tape. Very soon after, first syringes, then strips, were made widely available to those who needed them. I salute the thousands of volunteers who previously tried so hard to get a change in policy; this was a victory for them.
I will never forget how little my wife and I knew about our daughter’s condition and the many challenges she would face, and recognise the vital importance of good educational material for people with diabetes, as much for those who care.
2. What relevant experiences do you have that can help you in your role as president of IDF?
First, I have had the experience of living with diabetes in my family for over 25 years, and an understanding of how hard it is for a young person to be the innocent victim of a serious disease. My daughter has been fortunate to have had expert medical support when she encountered difficulties. I want nothing more than the same expert care for all people with diabetes, though I know we are a long way from that.
I chaired the board of trustees of Diabetes UK from 2001-2006 and learned a large amount from that experience. Diabetes UK is the world’s second oldest and second largest Member Association and a co-founder of IDF. It is a privilege to have been elected to lead two such great organisations.
My knowledge of government decision-making from 15 years at the sharp end of politics is helpful in knowing how best we can influence health policy to improve the lives of those with diabetes. I have learned a lot about how effective organisations should work. But such experience counts for little unless you also have a real passion to improve the lives of those with diabetes, and modestly, I would say that I do.
I’ve seen the best and also the worst of care and treatment facilities and believe absolutely that everything we do in IDF should have, as its mainspring, an absolute determination to improve the lives of those with diabetes.
3. What is your priority for IDF over the coming triennium?
The over-arching priority is to ensure that the Federation continues to be the voice of those with diabetes, collaborating with other organisations that help us to achieve our mission.
Much importance is given in the Federation’s Strategic Plan to strengthening the effectiveness of our organisation on a regional level, so that we can in turn strengthen the effectiveness of our Member Associations, particularly in low and middle income countries.
We have been successful in recent years in elevating the profile of diabetes in the context of chronic disease; now we must use that same campaigning zeal in our advocacy to achieve real improvements in care and treatment, and effective prevention policies so that the tsunami of type 2 diabetes can be first slowed, and then reversed.
That is a huge ambition, but one which is vital if life is to be made better for people with diabetes and others are to be spared developing it. IDF has a hugely talented board, which I am proud to lead, and we are very united in our purpose. We all want to see our local and national champions for diabetes being empowered to be effective advocates, in much the same way as I started my work with diabetes in the UK all these years ago.
4. What are some of the challenges you expect to face in implementing the 2013 strategic plan? How can we overcome them as an organisation?
Any worthwhile organisation always has, or should have, ambitions beyond its actual reach.
We have a Strategic Plan with a number of ambitious targets and some will take rather longer to achieve than this triennium, but that should not stop us making a strong start. Inevitably, the constraints are available resources, both human and financial.
IDF has many talented people in its office and on its board and by focussing on specific goals and ambitions, we can and will make progress. Having the income to fuel these goals is very important, and that is why we shall be looking at ways in which we can broaden the base of the financial support for IDF.
There are many natural partners whom we shall seek out, and persuade that working together, we can achieve more than working separately - or worse, in competition! The guiding principle for all that we do, however, is and will remain that it should improve the lives of those with diabetes. IDF is hugely fortunate to have an army of volunteers across the globe, working in Member Associations or in clinical practice or research.
We depend on them to a very great extent and are grateful every minute of every day for all that they do for the cause of diabetes.
5. What would you like to have achieved as IDF President at the end of your triennium?
It’s not about me or any legacy that I would want. I am at the end of my working life, and I just want to spend three years trying to help IDF to be an even more effective organisation.
Anything that is achieved will be result of a huge team effort, of which I happen to be the leader for three years. I would want the Federation to be a stronger, even more established organisation, not for its own sake, but because that way it can better support those whom we serve, people with diabetes.
I shall be disappointed if we have not managed to make a real difference to the effectiveness of our regional presence and if we are not providing effective support in a myriad of ways to our Member Associations.
IDF will be a bigger organisation because in many countries there are fully operational, successful diabetes associations knocking on our door to be members. We must not only be bigger, but also better, thereby better equipped to make meaningful improvements to the day-to-day living of those with this life-threatening disease.
It’s amazing what a relatively small number of determined people can achieve when they have a common purpose and a clear goal.