News and insights brought to you by the International Diabetes Federation

Heather Koga (front row, first from right) with other #dedocvoices advocates at ATTD 2023.

I have lived with type 2 diabetes for almost ten years and have been a “self-made” diabetes advocate and expert in Zimbabwe for over five years. Last month, I was able to finally experience the International Conference on Advanced Technologies and Treatments of Diabetes (ATTD), a world-class platform for clinicians and scientists to present, discuss and exchange insights on rapidly evolving diabetes technology and treatments. I joined over 4,000 participants from 97 countries to explore the stimulating and enriching programme. I discovered innovations in diabetes medicines and treatments, cutting-edge technologies and the latest research in diabetes treatment.

The conference offered a rich choice of compelling sessions on topics ranging from glucose monitoring to resolving hypoglycaemia, from innovative obesity treatments to healthy ageing with diabetes. The only major setback was that so many exciting sessions took place simultaneously, making it difficult to choose.

A particularly impactful session highlighted the disparities in access to diabetes care and treatment. In low- and middle-income countries, people with diabetes often face challenges in accessing proper treatment and care. Some contributing factors stem from social and economic issues such as food insecurity, limited literacy and education, and poor infrastructure. Other factors include limited access to medication, distant health centres and psychosocial barriers. In addition, myths and social stigma about diabetes influence how society views people wearing devices. Collectively, these factors contribute to sub-optimal health outcomes.

A particularly impactful session highlighted the disparities in access to diabetes care and treatment across the world

A second eye-opening topic was the need for diabetes technology for women and girls. Research has shown that diabetes outcomes are not gender-neutral. Women and men experience diabetes differently due to biological differences. Menstruation, pregnancy and menopause tend to be accompanied by decreased insulin sensitivities and increased hyperglycaemia. Other factors include sociocultural gender norms, environment, nutrition, lifestyles, stress and societal attitudes. Regardless of the type, women with diabetes are less likely to reach their HbA1C, cholesterol and blood pressure targets. These factors reinforce the need for new technologies in the healthcare and treatment of women during different life phases.

In addition to the learning sessions, the ATTD exhibition showcased the latest diabetes products, applications and services for people with diabetes. Exhibitors were generous with their time and enthusiastically shared information on their products. All these exhibits in one place enabled me to compare products and evaluate the benefits of different features.

New technologies were at the top of my list, including emerging devices for glucose monitoring. Among the most popular ones discussed and displayed were insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). An insulin pump continuously delivers insulin for carbohydrate intake, whereas a CGM provides uninterrupted tracking of blood glucose levels throughout the day. More research is underway to design affordable and accessible insulin pumps for people with diabetes, particularly in low-income countries.

Successful outcomes in research and studies on treatment options, including new technologies and devices, need people with diabetes to be involved from the start

The #dedoc platform

A growing trend recognises and acknowledges people as experts and stakeholders on conditions that affect them. With the support of the #dedoc platform, people with diabetes can attend scientific conferences to provide input and join decision-making processes on their treatments. I had the privilege to be one of the #dedocvoices.

As a first-time attendee at ATTD, I felt welcomed, accepted, respected and understood. Like we say, “find your tribe and love them hard”. This all-encompassing experience gave added insight and focus to my advocacy work. I had the opportunity to meet #dedocvoices advocates from across the world and share knowledge and ideas. ATTD is a “must-attend” event for anyone with diabetes.

People with diabetes involved from the start

One of the greatest lessons from this conference is that successful outcomes in research and studies on treatment options, including new technologies and devices, need people with diabetes to be involved from the start. We need to be part of every step of the development process. Our essential role includes providing data, trialling products and giving feedback. Failure to do so leads to conclusions that do not translate into real-life situations. The resounding view is people with diabetes are generally curious, attentive and invested in trying to find ways to manage the condition. Nothing for us without us!

 

Heather Koga has been living with type 2 diabetes since 2013. She is passionate about diabetes awareness and education and has been involved in a number of diabetes projects locally and internationally under the banner of the IDF Blue Circle Voices network.

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