Interview: Diabetes in the Dominican Republic

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I had the chance to chat with Aprendiendo A Vivir (AAV), a diabetes organisation in the Dominican Republic (DR) supporting many Dominicans living with diabetes. People in the DR would otherwise be lacking the amazing resources that AAV offers. Below, Jose Antonio Lopez, founder of AAV, offers some insight into the organization and life with diabetes in the DR.

Can you tell readers a bit about Aprendiendo A Vivir?

AAV is a Dominican NGO for people living with diabetes. It was founded in 2005 by a group of people led by me, Jose Antonio Lopez, who had been recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and had the luck to treat myself in Joslin Clinic in Boston, MA- were I was exposed to a world leading treatment of diabetes based in Patient Control through education.

Having that opportunity and seeing the big lack of education and information around diabetes in DR, we brought this project to life and today it is leading the fight against diabetes in our country. We have an Education Centre in Santo Domingo and are responsible for the biggest campaign on diabetes awareness and education in the DR called Ganemosle la Carrera a la Diabetes.

Why do you think it is important that Aprendiendo A Vivir exists?

Diabetes is a condition that affects people’s lives in a certain way that is totally manageable. In the DR, one of every four Dominicans has diabetes or is at risk of having it at some point in life. Therefore diabetes is an important health issue in our country and preventing it, or teaching people who live with diabetes to live a normal live is a must. With little being done by our local authorities, AAV moves towards a future with less people having life impact complications from diabetes and promoting a healthier country trough exercise, good nutrition and better quality of life.

Part of your aim is to raise awareness and advocate for people living with diabetes. What would you say are some of the biggest obstacles for people with diabetes in the Dominican Republic?

1. Access to medication and meters: Diabetes has an expensive medical treatment. The costs, on average, to treat diabetes in the DR through insulin and meter strips is more than 50% of the minimum monthly salary of any Dominican.

2. Access to diabetes education: Education for people with diabetes is lacking. We should advocate to make similar services to what AAV offers in our Centre available to everyone throughout our country.

3. Local policy around diabetes: Authorities should be more involved and target relevant issues around the topic which are being ignored but have a huge impact in future costs of country health budget.

Can you tell me a bit in particular about the needs of children and some of the issues they have accessing insulin and care?

Insulin is accessible but expensive and some children do not get the appropriate treatment. I believe that AAV can be the mid-point between local medical care because our camps can offer diabetes education through an efficient continuous supervision of children living with diabetes. It is like the role of a Diabetes Nurse Educator as seen in US/EU health system.

You have a lot of supporters throughout the Dominican Republic. I was able to meet Virgilio Cabrera who recently ran the London Marathon in support of the foundation. Can you tell me about Virgilio running for Aprendiendo A Vivir and how will your partnership with him benefit the foundation?

Since 2012, AAV started a collaboration program with JDRF UK. We support a Global Initiative like JDRF UK in continuing to look for a cure for diabetes, and locally we keep proving to Dominicans that diabetes is preventable or controllable if you are living with it. In 2013, four Dominicans (one with T1 diabetes) completed London's Virgin Marathon. This year Virgilio completed the same race. All slots were given by JDRF in exchange for a donation from AAV. Virgilio himself has an interesting life story fighting diabetes with exercise. 

Diabetes is there and we have to learn to live with it and fight it with lifestyle adjustments, which can be easily done.

-Jose Antonio

What is your vision for the foundation and your hopes for people with diabetes in the future?

My Vision for AAV is to grow as big as our country needs and to offer every person living with Diabetes a Centre were they can find not only access to all their medication and strips but also Education - both are key elements in controlling diabetes and living a healthy live. I would also like AAV to be a model organization in our Region. Our youth have to stand up and lead changes that benefit our people who need help.

Finally, what is the best way for people reading this to help or get involved in the foundation and make a difference to the cause?

AAV is accessible through social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @ganemosle and our webpage. The best way to donate to AAV programs from abroad is through our sister foundation AYUDA. Any amount you can give us through them is greatly appreciated, so help us keep changing Diabetes in our country!

Thanks so much to Jose for taking the time to tell readers about AAV and to everyone who works and volunteers for the organisation and makes a difference to people with diabetes in the Dominican Republic!