In 2015, Mridula Kapil Bhargava embarked on a lasting journey as a fervent advocate, determined to shatter the stigma surrounding diabetes and champion the cause of #insulin4all. As a dedicated Global Advocacy Partner representing T1International (through the Diabetes Fighters Trust) and a key member of our Fight for Five Working Group, Mridula plays a crucial role in our mission to ensure that no one has to expend more than 5% of their average income for life-saving insulin, helping them pursue their dreams without the burden of excessive costs.
Mridula's initiation into advocacy was prompted by a heart-wrenching incident. She learned about a young girl, much like herself, living with type 1 diabetes, who tragically lost her life because her grandparents opposed her taking insulin injections. In Mridula's poignant words, "The stigma around Insulin killed her." This haunting experience became the catalyst for Mridula's commitment to comprehending and tackling the challenges faced by those living with diabetes. It ignited her determination to reach out to others who might be grappling with similar difficulties.
Creating a sense of community has been at the core of Mridula's work. Upon her return to Delhi in 2015, she founded "Revisualizing and Revolutionising our Diabetes," affectionately known as REVORDiabetes. After 18 months of tireless one-on-one meetings, their first meet-up witnessed an astounding turnout, with over 80 individuals living with type 1 diabetes coming together. As Mridula fondly recalls, "That was a profoundly emotional moment for me."
Mridula's dedicated efforts were acknowledged in 2017 when she received the Bakken Award, which empowered her to formally establish the Diabetes Fighters Trust. Within this trust, Mridula initiated projects like the Caregivers Training Program, aimed at equipping caregivers and individuals with type 1 diabetes with essential knowledge on diabetes types and management. Moreover, she has taken strides to counter disinformation and provide education to alternative medicine practitioners. Her endeavours also encompass mass awareness campaigns, such as screening truck drivers, and the exciting prospect of launching a Patient Advocacy Platform called CareOll life, a tool to empower the community as well as the patient advocates through fact-checking, storytelling, raising funds and much more.
Mridula's personal journey has been fraught with experiences of diabetes stigma. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the tender age of four in a small city in Uttar Pradesh, her childhood faced several challenges and confronted discrimination when she entered a new school in Delhi during the 11th grade. A baseless rumour circulated that she was taking drugs, an injustice she couldn't ignore. In a bold move, she confronted the class, setting the record straight about what type 1 diabetes entails and making it clear that their gossip was unacceptable. Her courage bore fruit, and she never had to face diabetes stigma at that school again. Mridula's unyielding resilience, instilled by her family and faith, propelled her toward a future in diabetes advocacy.
The challenges mounted during the second wave of COVID-19 in 2021 when both Mridula and her husband contracted the virus. Managing her diabetes while battling COVID led to her hospitalisation with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Mridula endured immense pressure on the healthcare system and a glaring lack of experience in managing diabetes during her hospital stay. As she recouped from long COVID while grappling with failing diabetes technologies, depression set in. "The whole public health system had crashed," she lamented.
However, Mridula's indomitable spirit never wavered. Her impressive global travels, multiple higher degrees, and various educational pursuits underscore her commitment to dismantling the barriers that society imposed upon her as a young woman with diabetes. She drew strength from her community and made a solemn vow to return the support they had given her, magnified manifold. Destigmatizing all health conditions became a fundamental aspect of Mridula's health and advocacy.
Reflecting on the challenges that continue to shape her advocacy journey, Mridula points to the soaring costs of insulin and blood glucose testing technologies, even as strides are made in higher-income countries. She decries the absence of strategies to make these advancements accessible to lower-income countries, a lack of attention that questions the global community's commitment to inclusivity. As Mridula articulates, "It's disheartening that people want to innovate and create groundbreaking technologies but fail to devise strategies to ensure that at least the basics reach low- and middle-income countries."
Mridula's journey is a testament to the significance of community support coupled with self-advocacy. Her unwavering dedication to the Diabetes Fighters Trust and her active involvement with T1International serve as compelling examples of how grassroots movements can generate lasting change. Mridula envisions and tirelessly advocates for a world where the fight for affordable insulin transcends borders.