A few weeks ago I visited Mahosot Hospital in the capital city of Laos to meet a two-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It was strange to think that 15 years ago I was in a similar situation on the other side of the world.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in September 2003 when I was 11 years old. Even though it was a long time ago in my native France, I remember the initial fear surrounding how and why I was going to have to inject insulin into myself several times a day for the rest of my life.
The alternative? There is none.
It is a daunting thought and I could see it etched on the faces of the family sat on the bed. The mother, father and son had travelled over 400km to Vientiane for an introduction to life with the chronic condition.
The fan slowly whirled above us as Dr Amphayvanh checked the blood glucose readings from the last few days.
‘3.1. Still too high,’ she said, pointing at the clipboard. The family looked on, quietly confused.
I have been living in Laos for over a year working as an engineer at the international airport. I see my Type 1 Diabetes as a part of me and, although it still has its challenges, I am now comfortable with the daily rhythm of injections.
But when I came to Laos I initially found it difficult to know what to eat because the staple food in Laos is Sticky Rice. This is ‘off-limits’ for me to eat regularly as it is incredibly gluttonous and makes controlling my blood sugar levels difficult. It made me think about what local people with Type 1 Diabetes ate.
Coincidently, it was at this time that I met Nick, who volunteers for Action4Diabetics. A4D is a UK registered charity focused on providing free access to essential care and support to disadvantaged young people with Type 1 Diabetes in South-East Asia. He told me that when they began operations in Laos in early 2016, there was only one girl registered at Mahosot with Type 1 Diabetes.
With a population of 6.8 million, A4D estimate there should be 500. The young boy in front of me was the 20th Type 1 Diabetic in Laos.
Nick went on to say that for disadvantaged people in rural areas, even if someone is successfully diagnosed, the chances of them being able to access medication is unlikely. The financial burden for these families on top of this would be crippling.
It occurred to me that if I had been born in Laos, not France, I would have probably died when I was 12 years-old.
I reached into my bag and pulled out my injection pen. A smile broke on the mother’s face as I placed it next to the pen provided by A4D for their son. Dr Amphayvanh explained to them that I was a 28-year-old professional engineer who has Type 1 Diabetes. It made my first visit to the hospital with Nick very fulfilling as I left knowing that this family understand that their son, with the support of A4D, can become a healthy, active man.
However, there are many challenges that lie ahead. Will they be able to effectively manage the condition when they return home? Will they be able to keep the insulin cool? Will they be able to provide their son with with a good diet?
A4D attempt to provide answers to the questions through education as well as free insulin, blood testing kits and the collaboration and development of hard working Doctors such as Dr Amphayvanh.
Making a difference:
I truly believe that the work of A4D takes a family from a situation of despair to one of hope, and they do this with medication that, even I, perhaps took for granted back in France.
There are still many children that die each year from Type 1 Diabetes in Laos. But the first steps have been taken and the young boy in front of me, and the other 19 young people on the A4D support program in Laos, are proof of what is possible. Only $500 covers the cost of all the essential medication and support a young child with Type 1 Diabetes needs to survive.
Please follow the A4D Facebook page to understand more about the charity and see how you can get involved in saving and transforming lives.