Diabetes doesn’t discriminate — it affects anyone at any age, gender, race, and country… Our hope is to educate on life without diabetes outside the borders of the US, and show that our community is much bigger than we might think.
Today, our guest blogger is Mike Young, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 11 years ago. Although he was born in England and lived in the US for a while, he’s been living in Spain since 2003. He now lives with his family on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where he works as a web marketer. He blogs about life in Spain with diabetes (in English) at Diabetes in Spain and he’s also active on Twitter. Mike is an awesome DOC representative in Europe, having participated in the 1st Annual Diabetes Internet Forum hosted by Medtronic last June in Lusanne, Switzerland. Who says everything in Europe is slow? Medtronic isn’t hosting their US forum until April!
A Guest Post by Mike Young
I possibly have a slightly unique perspective being diagnosed in the UK, moving to Colorado and then ﬁnally onto Spain in 2003 where I’m fortunate to have state medical care, which includes specialists, subsidized medications, insulin and test strips. Spain’s philosophy is “you must contribute to the system to beneﬁt from it.”
Spain’s population has grown in the last 10 years due to immigration. This has put massive pressure on medical services, especially as many of these immigrants have retired, have type 2 diabetes, or are well on their way to developing it. As of 2010, over 3 million people in Spain have diabetes, and approximately 450,000 have type 1 diabetes.
When I met my ﬁrst endocrinologist I was told: “Eat this, not that; inject this at this time, and that at that time.” I did what I was told and this view is still carried by the older generation of medical professionals and patients alike.
Eight years later, I have quarterly meets with my doctor, Tomas, who speaks great English, and the care and its delivery is much more professional and patient-centric.
Younger generations of medics are embracing new technologies to beneﬁt everyone, and this goes hand-in-hand with diabetes and with the many meters and pumps that are now available. Most manufactures are present but not all of their products. For example, the Bayer USB meter is not available here. This can cause some frustration, if you feel a particular device would be beneficial.
For pump users, the Accu-Chek Spirit Combo and the Medtronic Paradigm Veo are available and whilst I don’t use a pump (I’m working on that), the uptake on all insulin pumps is low here. I think there are two or three contributing factors to this. Like with the rest of Europe, medical care in Spain is still essentially doctor-driven, so for the Big Pharma companies the initial outreach is to medical professionals, and only to them. When combined with a certain tradition amongst the older generation of medics to be quite dictatorial towards patient care, I do believe that the use of new technology/methods was often shunned. This is changing, however, as the younger generation of patients are more connected now than ever, as too are the medics providing their care.
People admire the Spanish culture, the lifestyle and cuisine, and if you are from the UK, especially the weather. Fruit, vegetables, ﬁsh, and a wide variety of meat and dairy products all available in abundance from supermarkets and the daily street markets. Traditionally, lunches were taken at a snail’s pace and ﬁnished off with pastries and coffees. Now the fast food chains dominate, turning a novelty into a necessity. The “Mediterranean Diet” is being replaced by its fat-and-carbohydrate-ﬁlled western cousin, causing an avalanche of new type 2 diabetes cases.
There are diabetes organizations in Spain, but it is rare to hear about initiatives, if there are any, especially programs for non-natives. This is the reason for my site, which is to help distribute information to English-speaking people. Slowly though, smaller groups are working their way around and starting to utilize other social media. Of course, there are many organizations/clubs and associations in Spain. However, most seem to go unnoticed for some reason. The main organization is called Sociedad Española de Diabetes (SED). They also maintain close links with healthcare professionals. Again, one issue is that people “at ground level” seem to know nothing about them, people with diabetes included. Occasionally they do hold small events, mainly in conjunction with the Red Cross, but these are far and few between and certainly nothing like events held in both the US and UK.
Spain only invests $2,277 per capita on diabetes patients, compared to $3,574 in the UK and $7,383 in the USA. With less being invested and an increasing number of cases being diagnosed, there are problems ahead, compounded by the changing lifestyle. This really is time bomb for a country that is already under significant ﬁnancial pressure.
Perhaps a back-to-basics approach to diet and exercise would help to ease the burden of diabetes. Starting from the ground up, at schools (which they already are starting to do), and into the work place.
Eating time with the family is still valued, but not as much as it was and not as much as it should be. Perhaps this is something that we should all take on board, giving us the opportunity to enjoy our food, with the people that are important to us, whilst taking care of our health.
Saludos a todo!
Thank you for sharing, Mike. If you live in another country with diabetes and would like to share what life is like (in English, please!), please contact us. We would love to hear from you!