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diabetes educator in latin america

Reliable and accurate diabetes education provided by trained healthcare professionals benefits people with diabetes, caregivers and the public, resulting in better health outcomes and helping to eliminate stigma.

The crucial role of healthcare professionals

Healthcare professionals (HCPs) are the backbone of diabetes education.  HCPs provide accurate information, foster self-management strategies and promote lifestyle changes for people living with diabetes. Their role is not limited to clinical advice but extends to the psychological and social aspects of managing the condition.

The three most common diabetes diagnoses are type 1 diabetes, which is often diagnosed in people under 20 but can affect people of all ages. The most common is type 2 diabetes, which accounts for over 95% of all diabetes. Lastly, gestational diabetes (GMD) affects women during pregnancy.

Healthcare professionals have the skills to communicate complex medical information in an easy-to-understand manner. They provide tailored advice that considers age, lifestyle and cultural factors. This approach is decisive in helping people manage their condition effectively and prevent diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage and vision loss. Moreover, in many cases, type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented through screening and timely action to mitigate the risk factors.

Equally important, HCPs also act as a bridge to the broader healthcare system, advocating for needs and rights of their patients. People with diabetes often face emotional and psychological challenges, which HCPs can identify and address by providing support and counselling. This emotional support is crucial in helping people with diabetes cope with their condition and maintain a positive outlook.

Benefits for caregivers and the public

HCPs can ensure that caregivers provide the best possible care and support to people with diabetes. Whether family members or professional caregivers, they play a significant role in supporting people with diabetes. They often assist with administering insulin, monitoring glucose levels, and managing diet and exercise routines. This increased awareness can help people with diabetes understand their condition better, learn how to manage it effectively and know when to seek professional help.

I see a need for more knowledge in my son's school. The complex life of dealing with diabetes, nutrition and sports is a complex matrix, and starting somewhere is essential. We've gone as parents to answer questions from my son's classmates. (Françoise Georgel, IDF Blue Circle Voice, Belgium)

Dissipating the stigma surrounding diabetes

Often, ignorance surrounding diabetes leads to stigma and misinformation. The first step to stopping this bias and improving the well-being of people living with the condition is to understand diabetes. Stigma can manifest in various ways with people experiencing discrimination in the workplace, school and social settings. As a result, they may avoid discussing their condition with others or seeking professional help due to fear of judgement and exclusion. Educating the public can help dispel myths and misconceptions about diabetes, leading to acceptance and support.

Frequently, in these situations, people with diabetes and their caregivers become the diabetes educator. When a child lives with type 1 diabetes, often the parents will assume the role of educator in the school environment due to insufficient awareness among teachers and school staff.

When she visited her son’s school, Françoise Georgel, a member of the IDF Blue Circle Voice network, found pupils were curious about her son’s condition. They asked whether he could have sweets whenever he wanted and why he left the classroom to drink water. These differences often set children with diabetes apart from their peers. However, Françoise found that they quickly understood, turning their focus to the glucose level graphs she had brought. Today, they are fully implicated in her son’s glucose monitoring, even checking his levels before sports practice after school.

In Zimbabwe, we have a lot of efforts on the ground, but the reality is that access is minimal. Most of the big associations are in the major cities, so access to education is very limited in remote areas. (Heather Koga, IDF Blue Circle Voice, Zimbabwe)

Obstacles to diabetes education

Despite positive results, obstacles to diabetes education exist globally, with greater prevalence in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). One major barrier is the lack of access due to inadequate training of healthcare professionals. Additionally, access is often limited to major urban centres, which are difficult to reach for people with diabetes that live in remote areas.

Furthermore, scarce resources can hinder access to diabetes education in LMICs. The challenge for diabetes educators is to take the education to the people. In Zimbabwe, to combat the circulation of inaccurate information about diabetes, Heather Koga, an IDF Blue Circle Voice member, organised a WhatsApp Q&A, enlisting the help of a dietician to answer questions submitted by the group. She has also disseminated diabetes education through face-to-face events, radio broadcasts and social media.

In Mexico, data from the Mexican Diabetes Federation shows that only 10-20% of people with diabetes receive adequate diabetes education. Jaime Elias, an IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes Trainee, considers that the lack of access stems from a lack of funding for HCP training. He also advocates adapting education materials to language needs and cultural beliefs for greater inclusivity.

There are a lot of misbeliefs about diabetes. I think an important part of our advocacy is diabetes education and being available to explain all the basics of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. (Manuel Jaime Elias, IDF Young Leader in Diabetes Trainee, Mexico)

Successful diabetes education programmes

Becoming a diabetes educator involves acquiring specialised knowledge about diabetes and honing one’s educational skills. Successful diabetes education programmes exist worldwide. One example in the US is diabetes self-management education (DSME), an ongoing process of facilitating the knowledge, skill and ability required for diabetes self-care. This process incorporates the needs, goals, and life experiences of the person with diabetes using evidence-based standards.

The Joint Asia Diabetes Evaluation (JADE Program), spearheaded by the Asia Diabetes Foundation (ADF), delivers a multidisciplinary approach so healthcare professionals can provide better diabetes care and make informed decisions with their patients. HCPs use JADE technology to create a diabetes registry for comprehensive care models, diabetes education for people with type 2 diabetes, and identifying people at risk for type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related complications.

Online education can help overcome issues related to access. The IDF School of Diabetes offers an accredited online course. The curriculum includes a customised set of modules to enhance core skills and competencies of health professionals to effectively educate people with diabetes, to promote healthy lifestyles and self-management for optimal diabetes control.

The way forward in diabetes education

The pivotal role of healthcare professionals as diabetes educators cannot be overstated. They are vital in providing accurate information, promoting self-management strategies, and combating stigma and misinformation. To be effective, approaches to diabetes education need to be patient-centred, culturally sensitive and accessible for people with diabetes, caregivers and the broader community. Through these efforts, we can improve the well-being of people living with diabetes and create a society that is more accepting and understanding of the condition.

Blue Circle Talks: Why diabetes education matters

Learn more about the positive impact diabetes education brings to individuals and communities in this Blue Circle Talk held on 24 January 2024.  Panellists share their experiences on the complexities of delivering diabetes education and the significance of country, context and culture.

Learn more about the role of the diabetes educator

This free online IDF School of Diabetes course, The role of the diabetes educator, designed for nurses and other health professionals, will teach the basics needed to help people with diabetes understand and manage their condition. Topics in this 60-minute course cover the role of the diabetes educator, the benefits of therapeutic education and the value of a multidisciplinary team.

Go to the course at IDF School of Diabetes and start learning now!


Justine Evans is Content Editor at the International Diabetes Federation

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