Friday, November 13, 2009

The Other 364 Days A Year

In recognition of World Diabetes Day (WDD), which is on November 14th, I'm going to use this opportunity to (in my typical fashion) to call attention to what World Diabetes Day (and Diabetes Month) has become in the U.S. today (and quite possibly p!$$ a few people off in the process, but I'm used to it).

It's become an excuse.

An excuse for the media and the rest of the world to continue being blithely ignorant about diabetes for the other 364 days each year. Bennett Dunlap's recent post entitled "Dear Nate" unfortunately makes this abundantly clear (catch their lame response here). Bennett isn't the first one to go down this road, and will almost certainly not be the last.

In fact, on my inaugural WDD post back in November 2005, I made a very similar point to a Boston Globe editorial writer, who incidentally never responded to my letter. But this is a battle that needs to be fought because our failure to do so will ensure that misinformation and ignorance rule the entire public discourse when it comes to diabetes (all types).

You know what I'm talking about: the one where the PATIENT (and/or their caregivers) -- NOT their disease -- assumes all of the blame for anything bad that happens related to diabetes. In effect, public spending on diabetes research is already dwarfed by far less common diseases (according to the FAIR Foundation), and that is partially a function of the fact that diabetes is widely regarded as a character flaw, rather than a real disease, according to most in the mainstream media. I think this is because diabetes has been defined by people other than those who actually live with diabetes.

Don't get me wrong, these events were started with the most admirable of intentions, and World Diabetes Day in particular was groundbreaking in at least one respect: being the FIRST non-communicable disease to be recognized by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. From that perspective, WDD does get diabetes on the radar screen of the public for a brief time each year. But in the U.S., today we have a culture that is driven by short sound-bytes and short attention spans. We can be appreciative for a single day in the public spotlight, but what about the rest of the year?

I happen to agree with Jenny Ruhl that pollutants and chemicals have become so prevalent in our everyday lives, but unfortunately have long-term impacts that we have yet to even quantify (or even acknowledge). In addition, World Diabetes Day is becoming a marketing event along the lines of Valentines Day for the multi-billion diabetes industry to promote is latest products and get some free publicity, which unfortunately, hurts the original intent behind it.

I'm also quite concerned that blue circles everywhere don't do anywhere near enough to convey much useful information about diabetes or its treatment. This situation means far too many people actually believe that what they watch on the news or read in the newspaper. But they don't necessarily get accurate information about a disease that threatens to become an ever-more-costly drain on a healthcare system that is already struggling to manage runaway costs. Instead of blaming a healthcare system that is an uncoordinated collection of self-interested parties pushing hard in Washington to represent their interests, the media has bought into the idea that the patient, and not their disease, that is ultimately responsible for everything related to diabetes. Too bad it wasn't quite so simple.

Don't misunderstand my objective with this posting: I am NOT dissing World Diabetes Day, but I AM dissing what World Diabetes Day has actually become in the United States: a media circus, only it's a circus without a ringleader.

(Here's where I include some relevant circus-related music you can listen to now -- one is traditional circus music, the next one is the current pop hit "Circus" from Britney Spears, the last one is a song called "The Circus" from Erasure, which is a little bit slower, but more circus-like as far as the music's concerned than Britney's "Circus".)

Until the public discourse involves more people who actually live with diabetes, and is not controlled exclusively by companies that profit from the disease, nor limited mainly to doctors and healthcare providers, then the intent of World Diabetes Day is getting lost in the shuffle. Too often, most of speakers on World Diabetes Day events are too isolated from the day-to-day realities of what it's actually like to live with their prescribed treatments, but like to get themselves in the press anyway, which is just sad, but not terribly helpful.

My discussion aims to change that dynamic, not criticize it.


Bennet said...

Thanks for you comments here, at YDMV and their moronic YouTube posting.

I love that people want to care and hate that desire to do good draws in the clowns.

LY/MI You are a super hero in my book.

Jim Purdy said...

"... the media has bought into the idea that the patient, and not their disease, that is ultimately responsible for everything related to diabetes."

I understand your point, and I don't mean to quibble.

However, I feel very strongly that I really am responsible for everything related to my Type 2 diabetes. That includes making my own informed decisions about choosing health care providers, what foods I eat, and which (if any) medications I take.

I do not, and will not, abdicate those responsibilities to anyone else.