Diabetes New Zealand’s silent epidemic

By Mandy Hebben


Diabetes is fast emerging as the biggest health catastrophe the world has ever seen. It will overwhelm healthcare resources everywhere and will jeopardise the health and lives of over half a million New Zealanders within the next decade.

A leading cause of death, poorly managed diabetes is the major cause of heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure and blindness. It is the largest contributor to foot and leg amputations and causes impotence. Over 208,000 New Zealanders have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes but at least as many again have it without knowing it. And every day 50 more people are diagnosed with diabetes. It is an epidemic.

According to the World Health Organisation, diabetes is going to reduce life expectancy for the first time in 200 years. Despite these alarming figures, little concerted effort has been put into tackling the issue that will affect more New Zealanders than any other. The cost of diabetes to New Zealand’s health budget will soar from 4% in 2000 to 14% by 2020. That’s more than one billion dollars extra every year.

However, a large proportion of diabetes care and prevention is self-care. Through knowledge of their own condition, people can change behaviour patterns and empower themselves to make the lifestyle decisions that go such a long way to avoiding life-threatening complications that can follow in diabetes wake.

What is Diabetes?

* The food we eat cannot be turned into energy to fuel our bodies without a hormone called insulin.

* Without adequate insulin, blood glucose levels rise above normal with the potential to cause serious damage to the heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves and circulation. Ê

* Type 1 Diabetes occurs when there is no insulin (around 10% of cases).

* Type 2 Diabetes occurs when there is too little insulin or the body is unresponsive to it (around 90% and the cause of the present epidemic).

* Lifestyle issues are often at the core of diabetes management - healthy food choices, keeping active, good self-management habits and taking any prescribed medications regularly.

* There are also hereditary elements to the condition and prevalence increases with age.

* Diabetes has no cure and is life-long. It impacts on the whole family and requires 24/7 rigorous self-management to avoid serious long-term health complications.

* Nevertheless, with knowledge diabetes can generally be managed.

Are you at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes?

If you have Type 2 Diabetes, it is best if it is diagnosed early. You can prevent many problems with diabetes if you know about it early and take action to manage it. If you find you have a high risk of developing diabetes but don't yet have it, you can take action that may prevent you ever getting diabetes.

Find out if you have a high risk of having or developing diabetes:

Do any two of these fit you?

* European 40 years of age or older

* Diabetes in your family (grandparents, parents, brothers or sisters)

* Maori, Asian, Middle Eastern or Pacific Island descent aged 30 years or older

* High blood pressure

* Overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around your waist)

* Diagnosed as having Impaired Glucose Tolerance(IGT)

Or have you had?

* A large baby weighing more than 9lbs/4kg, or have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

* High blood glucose in pregnancy

* High blood glucose in the past

If so you should have your blood glucose tested by a health professional once every year. And make the following changes to reduce your risk:

* Stay physically active and get regular daily exercise (walking is good)

* Eat healthy food

* Keep your weight in a healthy range


Chasing a cure for Type 1 Diabetes


Back in December last year, Sandra Grant was guest speaker at an Owaka Lions Club meeting, presenting information about the Spinal Cord Society of New Zealand and its Type 1 Diabetes Cure Trial.

SCSNZ is raising funds for a human trial, aiming to cure Type 1 Diabetes using adult stem cells to correct the autoimmune problem that causes the disease. The trial would build on Chicago research that demonstrated improvement in Type 1 sufferers with treatment using stem cells from umbilical cords. The Chicago results showed increased insulin production and improved blood glucose tests in even the most severe diabetics. The New Zealand trial will use stem cells from each person’s own bone marrow and will trial two different treatment methods.

The club found Sandra’s presentation so powerful that in February this year it decided to donate proceeds from the annual Catlins Canter horse trek to SCSNZ, and vowed to get other Lions Clubs involved in raising funds. The Canter was held in March, raising $10,000 for SCSNZ.

It didn’t stop there. Owaka’s immediate past president, Bruce McGill, has made it his project to raise funds for the trial and to bring other Lions Clubs on board.

In March, Bruce and Sandra gave a presentation about the trial and SCSNZ under general business at District 202FÕs Convention, gaining unanimous support from those present.

They have presented to Clinton and Clutha Valley Lions Clubs and 202FÕs Zone 5 meeting at Mataura, resulting in Zone 5 planning a public meeting in Gore, to spread information about SCSNZ and the Type 1 trial throughout the community.

In July, Sandra and Dr Jim Faed spoke at the 202F Presidents Dinner and briefed the 202F Cabinet meeting. Cabinet voted unanimously to recommend to all clubs of the District to actively support SCSNZ fundraising, and DG Andy Andrews has included fundraising for the Type 1 trial and SCSNZ in his core goals as District Governor. He intends to present a remit at the Multiple District Convention in Auckland (Bucklands Beach) in April next year.

I joined Lions in2003 and it was not until I became involved in cabinet I realised that Diabetes Awareness was a Lions Clubs International project, DG Andy said. Over the years I read articles on the website and it seemed to me that this international drive was more related to general education about the problem. This was great, but I always thought back to a man I worked with on several building sites, who had Type 1 Diabetes, and the discussions we had about the disease and how there was no cure. He felt that I understood how his condition affected his work. He called me his MORO bar mate.

If a cure was available, just think - no more testing one’s blood, no more asking a fellow worker to carry a MORO bar and give it to them when they start shaking, no more heading off to inject themselves. Life would be back to what non-sufferers say is normal. Think the effect on children Ð most of the people diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes are children. They have to learn to cope with the problem and have a very different life from their mates. They can never take a holiday from diabetes.

We are daring to dream that we may be able to make a real difference to diabetes. I believe that SCSNZ fits well with Lions, Sandra says. It is a not-for-profit registered charity. The President, Noela Vallis, Clinical Research Director, Dr Jim Faed, and I work voluntarily for SCSNZ.  Money for the trial will come from a variety of charitable sources, primarily from the New Zealand community. When a proven treatment has been realised, it will be given back to the world community for health professionals to use without payment to SCSNZ.

The trial facility that SCSNZ is establishing will go on to be used for other trials, not only for spinal cord injury, but also other autoimmune diseases (there are nearly 100 autoimmune diseases, including MS, rheumatoid arthritis and Coeliac disease).Ê There will be an open-door policy to other researchers who wish to use the equipment to create treatments Ð the potential range of medical applications is huge.

202L District Governor Richard Norris is also on board (SCSNZ President/Founder, Noela Vallis, lives in his District and has been in contact with Richard).

In an email to me, Richard said: Diabetes awareness is a particular focus for District 202L this year and I gave specific pins out to all Cabinet members representing diabetes awareness. At the Cabinet meeting the results of our discussions were that we would like to define a specific project which we can take to our November 2 Cabinet meeting with a view to raising the diabetes awareness profile within our District and doing something real to assist the SCSNZ programme... In the interim we will be in contact with clubs and be introducing the programme to them.

I have also contacted District 202J (as the Dunedin research facility is in their district) to familiarise them with the project and encourage them to consider fundraising.

We are still identifying what specific target Lions Districts might have for fundraising; the goalposts for this may well shift if it becomes a Multiple District project.


More information


Facebook Chasing a cure for Type 1 Diabetes


MD202 Diabetes Liaison Co-ordinator
Christine Kemp  
(07) 826 7892
Email Christine








I have forgotten my password