News and insights brought to you by the International Diabetes Federation

Vikasith and Gemunu loading car with supplies

The global Covid-19 pandemic has not spared Sri Lanka. The first case was registered in February, a migrant worker from China who subsequently recovered and left the country. As the number of cases grew, the Government of Sri Lanka imposed a nation-wide lockdown on March 20. The lockdown is still in place and may be extended further.

Over 700 young people living with type 1 diabetes are registered at the National Diabetes Centre (NDC) Rajagiriya, headquarters of the Diabetes Association of Sri Lanka and the NCD Alliance Lanka. Half of these regularly receive insulin, blood glucose meters, test strips, laboratory tests and medical guidance free of charge. They are underprivileged and therefore unable to purchase insulin from private sector pharmacies.

One week after the lockdown started, we received calls from our young people with diabetes, telling us that they could not access the insulin they needed from government hospitals. We investigated further and found that the public health system had exhausted its stock of this vital medicine.

Dhanuka Dilshan (better known as Vikasith), an IDF Young Leader in Diabetes (YLD), had made us aware of this serious situation. We contacted another YLD, Dinuka Jude, and together we mobilized our staff to call each person with type 1 diabetes to assess how much insulin they had left. We then put together individualized packages of insulin and test strips for over 100 people with type 1 diabetes in different districts of Sri Lanka. We called our relief effort #SavealifeCovid-19SL.

Each daily trip took intense coordination and planning. District borders had to be crossed, involving constant checks from the Police and Armed Forces.

The NDC obtained special permission from the Ministry of Health and the Inspector General of Police to arrange home deliveries throughout the country. Over two days, Vikasith began the distribution on his motorcycle in and around the capital, Colombo, with the help of Dinuka, who coordinated the deliveries and planned the routes.

As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths increased, so did fear among the population. Dinuka’s family insisted that he stop supporting the relief effort as he was a person at high risk.

Undeterred, Vikasith resumed the exhausting daily deliveries using a hired vehicle to access other districts in the country. It was amazing to see his courage and genuine enthusiasm to help other people with type 1 diabetes. Gemunu drove him around with equal enthusiasm in a coordinated effort to help those in need during the unprecedented lockdown.

Each daily trip took intense coordination and planning. District borders had to be crossed, involving constant checks from the Police and Armed Forces. Spanning four days and 2000km of travel, Vikasith and Gemunu risked their lives to save those of others who could not leave their homes. If the insulin had not been delivered, more people would have died from high blood glucose than from COVID-19. We are truly proud of our unsung heroes for their empathy and compassion, which made #SavealifeCovid-19SL a resounding success.

We must also acknowledge with gratitude Life for a Child for having supported us continuously with donations of insulin, test strips, blood glucose meters and professional guidance over the last eight years. Their contribution to the health and well-being of the people with type 1 diabetes that we support is immeasurable.

 

Dhanya Wijesuriya is Director Administration at the National Diabetes Centre Sri Lanka and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Diabetes Association of Sri Lanka


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