Interview with Robyn Short: Life for a Child

In my quest for finding organizations that help type 1 diabetics around the world, Life for a Child was one of the first programmes that I discovered which fit that bill perfectly. A project by the International Diabetes Federation, Life for a Child was only established in 1999 but has made huge strides since its inception. In this interview with Robyn Short, Program Manager for the International Diabetes Federation’s Life for a Child Program, Robyn introduces us to the programme, its projects and partners, and what it means to her to be working on this amazing initiative.

One of the things I like most about Life for a Child is that it works to give existing centres and associations tools and resources to help diabetics so that, hopefully, diabetes care and access to medication can be strengthened in the long term instead of a simple ‘quick fix’. Their motto, ‘No child should die of diabetes’, hits close to home. They are working to ensure that more children and youth with diabetes can receive the right care and treatment to ensure quality of life, so that, as Robyn put it, ‘they’re thriving, not just surviving’.

The IDF Life for a Child Programme is currently helping over 11,000 children and youth with diabetes in 43 countries. 

LFAC-map-march-2013

Can you offer some information about your personal background and why you are interested in diabetes and the developing world?

I’ve always been interested in health but came to work in it the long way round, via a degree in Art Theory, magazine work, and then Microsoft.  I finally started a degree in Public Health and was employed as a Project Officer for International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Consultative Section on Diabetes Education, Global Task Force on Clinical Guidelines and Global Task Force on National Diabetes Policy and Action, whose heads were all based in Sydney at the time.  A position with Life for a Child (LFAC) became available in September 2009 when there was only three staff, including myself, and I was the only full-time employee!

I’m interested in the disparity in health and health outcomes across the globe; I’m inspired by the amazing people I work with and the children, families and health professionals I work for. I want to ignite the desire to connect in all people so that reaching out to assist others is a collaborative and empowering step for those involved (big words, big dream).

Can you explain a bit about Life for a Child, such as how it was started and why?

In 1999 during a visit to Sydney, then IDF President Maria de Alva (from Monterrey, Mexico) raised the issue of the bleak future facing thousands of children with diabetes in developing countries.  She charged incoming IDF President Professor Martin Silink to develop an innovative global program to provide much-needed services to disadvantaged children and youth with diabetes.  Under his leadership, a partnership was quickly established between IDF, HOPE worldwide, and the Australian Diabetes Council (ADC). Less than two years later the Life for a Child Program (LFAC) was born and listed as an official programme of the IDF.

The Program does not establish its own centres, but works to strengthen key existing paediatric diabetes centres and Associations so that they can provide the best possible healthcare, given local circumstances, to all children and youth with diabetes in their area, be it a city, region or an entire country.

How has LFAC grown since it began? 

Tremendously! Originally the Program was piloted in three Western Pacific nations: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines, and was so successful that the program soon expanded to India, Bolivia and Azerbaijan.  LFAC has continued to flourish, and today supports over 11,000 children and youth with diabetes in 43 developing countries worldwide.

Amazing. Because LFAC now works in many countries and partners with numerous organizations, can you tell me a bit about the organizations you partner with?

LFAC could not work without the tremendous and on-going support it receives from a wide range of organisations and individuals:

  1. Our in-country partners – the local champions without whom the Program would not exist.  These are all established health services/clinics/Diabetes Associations who take responsibility for implementation on-the-ground, and provide essential feedback/monitoring to the management team in Sydney.
  2. Our partners and major contributors
    1. NGOs  e.g. HOPE worldwide, ADC, Insulin for Life (IFL) and ISPAD
    2. Industry e.g. Eli Lilly & Co, Nipro Diagnostics Inc, and LifeScan
    3. Foundations
    4. Individual donors – who remain the lifeblood of the Program. For a clearer picture of who’s involved, check out the Partners page on the website: http://www.idf.org/lifeforachild/sponsors

What does it take to keep LFAC running and what would it take/ how can it grow further (if you hope to do so)?

We run on the vision that “No child should die of diabetes”, and are always on the lookout for ways to grow the Program sustainably and positively affect lives.  Naturally finances play a significant role, although the Program receives considerable in-kind/product donations and reduced-price product from different companies which helps tremendously and deserves acknowledgement.  Our budget forecast is approximately $180/child/year which incorporates insulin, blood glucose monitoring equipment, HbA1c point-of-care testing, diabetes education, as well as other essentials such as program development and monitoring which includes staff costs.

We’re currently working to expand the Program’s donor base so more children and youth with diabetes can receive the care necessary to ensure quality of life, so they’re thriving, not just surviving. This campaign will kick-off in Australia where LFAC received national support from Diabetes Associations in the early days of the Program.

We are excited to hear more about that campaign as it progresses. In terms of further broadening your scope, what do you think is the most important struggle facing type 1 diabetics in the developing world that we all need to be aware of?

Life for a Child estimates between 70-90,000 young people with diabetes are still in need, so much remains to be done.  Speaking personally and as a non-medical professional, I see the following three factors as important for people with type 1, although it must be remembered there are many other, interconnected elements to take into consideration:

  • Health systems: strong, Government-run health systems make the world of difference to those in need
  • Access to essential medication, self-monitoring equipment and food security: it’s estimated that without insulin, a child with type 1 diabetes will die within one week.  Whilst securing a regular supply of insulin is commendable, we’re aware of the interplay with monitoring of blood glucose levels and the need for regular meals.
  • Education, which covers:
    • diabetes education for children & youth with diabetes and their families/carers
    • specialised paediatric diabetes training for doctors and nurses
    • education of the general public

Are there specific stories of inspiration and hope that people can read about to learn about the struggles faced by the children that LFAC helps?

Absolutely!! Start with the phenomenal Life for a Child films directed by Academy Award-nominee Edward Lachman:

  1. Life for a Child – set in Nepal
  2. In the Hearts of Africa – set in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Both can be viewed from the Life for a Child YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/lifeforachild

You can also read about Mohamed, an 18-year-old in Tanzania who spoke at the 1st African Diabetes Congress in July last year: http://www.idf.org/lifeforachild/news/lfac-at-first-african-diabetes-congress

And there are so many more, but so little space!

In what ways do you think we can get the global community as a whole to be aware and involved in the struggles of type 1 diabetics in the developing world? 

I like to think Discuss> Collaborate > Act! It’s also about operating from where you are, playing with your strengths and, where possible, have fun doing it.  A great example of this is the “Spare a Rose, Save a Child” campaign that happened around Valentine’s Day (February just been). Johson & Johnson organized key members of the US online diabetes community to tackle the topic of “Social Media for Social Good”.

The meeting was completely unrelated to Life for a Child until a J&J contact and long-time LFAC supporter who was at the meeting pitched to do a campaign for Life for a Child. That galvanized the group into designing and implementing a smart and catchy online campaign to spend Valentine’s Day money on LFAC instead of flowers or candy, ect. This was all without industry input and all in the space of several days – amazing!

How can people reading this interview help/get involved in this initiative or make a difference to this cause?

It’s the getting involved that makes the difference!  Whether people choose to advocate, raise awareness or fundraise, every action counts.  As you can see on our Fundraising page, the sheer creativity with which people approach raising money is astounding: school dances, can collections, ice-skating parties – the list goes on.

You can donate directly to Life for a Child here: http://www.idf.org/lifeforachild/donate

LFAC-donate-pic

Thanks so much to Robyn for taking the time to answer my questions and help spread the word about this great organization. Learn more about Life for a Child at http://www.idf.org/lifeforachild where you can find more ways to get involved. 

The more we know, the more we can share our knowledge with others and make positive change! 

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