We’re back with another edition of our Global Diabetes series, in which we’re “traveling the planet” to bring you stories of people living with diabetes in various parts of the world. This month, we’re hosting Maryam Al-Ostad, a 25-year-old from Kuwait who’s been living with type 1 for 11 years.
Medical authorities estimate that in Kuwait, about one in four people are living with some form of diabetes (!)
Maryam was born in Kuwait and is the fourth oldest of six siblings, two of whom were born in the United States when her father brought the family to live in Ohio for eight years while he was getting his masters and PhD in geography. Yet Maryam is the only member of her family with diabetes.
She works as a researcher at the National Centre for Education Development and is an active D-advocate. Last year, she was chosen by the Kuwait Diabetes Society to represent her country at the International Diabetes Federation’s Young Leaders program, which kicked off at the World Diabetes Congress in Dubai.
A Guest Post by Maryam Al-Ostad
Hi there! I’m Maryam, and I was born in Kuwait and didn’t live in the States because by the time I was born my dad had finished his studies and came back to live in Kuwait. My family is healthy and we don’t have any medical problems except for me being diabetic.
In Kuwait, we get free medication and doctor consultation for all Kuwaiti citizens.
We have public and private hospitals, and also something called polyclinics. Non-Kuwaitis can pay minimum fees of about $3 in polyclinics, which are typically located in community center areas and offer more general preventative and routine medical services.
But in polyclinics, not all doctors or nurses are well-suited for the job… it’s really up to you and your luck. A nurse might come to you and say, “Now you’re diabetic and it’s the end… You’re going to die soon!” This happened to my friend. They really freaked her out! So if you’re newly diagnosed with the condition, many people recommend you stay away from the polyclinics unless you’re going in for something like the common flu.
I was wrongfully diagnosed at the polyclinic.
When I was 14, I started having the symptoms: sleepy all the time, super thirsty, lost tons of weight. My mom took me to the polyclinic and the doctor said that I have dehydration and that I’d be fine. A few days later, I collapsed at home and my parents rushed me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with diabetes. My family was shocked because I was the first diabetic member in the family and they thought that I was too young to have diabetes. In my case, I didn’t know what diabetes meant!
The doctor came to me and explained that from now on I would have to take injections every day and he showed me how to inject myself. He was such a sweet doctor and very caring, he made me feel like from now on I’m responsible for my own body and should take care of it. I did take care of my diabetes for two years, but then I started neglecting myself. I felt that I couldn’t take it anymore! I didn’t know any other diabetics in my age group and didn’t know the risks of what might happen if I didn’t take care of my diabetes. I wanted to eat whatever I want and just have fun. After all, I was a teenager!
For eight years I took my insulin shots with random selection of insulin units. My blood sugar was either hypo or hyper. My mom used to force me to go to the hospital and stay for hours with an IV in when I had high blood sugar.
In 2010, I got admitted to the hospital for DKA. That’s when I met my new doctor. He recommended that I take a course called DAFNE (dosage adjustment for normal eating) and I did. This course my life changed, giving me self-empowerment and teaching me a lot about my condition and how to control it. I also met new diabetics and they became my friends.
Aside from those polyclinics, we also have public hospitals where non-Kuwaitis can for $6-7 get to do an A1C blood test every three months and eye checkups once a year and get free medications. Those of living in the county as residents don’t pay anything for those servies, though. We meet up with the doctor every three months for consultations, to check our feet, and to get our medicine prescriptions. Doctors in public hospitals are well trained and know how to deal with diabetics. We also have a nutritionist who helps us learn carb counting.
One of the main hospitals is the Dasman Diabetes Institute (DDI), where medication and consultation is free but patients must bring referrals from other hospitals or one of the polyclinics in order to have their file transferred there. The DDI’s mission is: “To prevent, control and mitigate the impact of diabetes and related conditions in Kuwait through effective programs of research, training, education, treatment, and health promotions and thereby improve quality of life in the population.”
My doctor’s consultations are now at DDI. It’s an amazing place and they really take care of their patients. Their health care system is similar to the public hospitals system: A1C tests every three months, eyes check up once a year and doctors consultation every three months. Plus they have healthy food cooking classes, and carb counting workshops for DAFNE members. They also have a private gym. You have to pay a fee in order to join the gym, but you get to have an excellent coach and a nurse that will take good care of you.
I participated in a DDI discovery course in 2010, and gave a presentation about the problems we are facing in my country, and one of these problems is social stigma. To me, I don’t see diabetes as a negative condition as long as you’re taking good care of it. I don’t like people’s reaction when they know that I’m diabetic. I’m working so hard to change their misconceptions towards diabetes. In my country, lots of young diabetics don’t like others to know about their condition because they fear their negative reaction.
That is one reason I’m involved with the Kuwait Diabetes Society (KDS). This is a support organization available for everyone, Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis. They have services such as foot clinics, nutrition clinics, A1C tests through finger prick for kids, monthly lectures for health care professional, and full participation in IDF conferences and any Gulf Region camp for young adults.
Although medication is distributed for free for all citizens, we have to pay for the glucose meters and strips. Any person who lives in Kuwait (not only Kuwaiti citizens) can get a membership at the KDS and get a 50% discount on all glucose meters and strips.
I consider myself a lucky person. During the one-week IDF Young Leaders program in Dubai, I met lots of other diabetics about my age and I got to see how they were dealing with diabetes in their own countries. I felt like we were one family. After coming back from the program, my friend and I decided to start a youth support group for diabetics and called it Blue Circle. Our aim is to build awareness, spread education, give continuous support to all diabetics in Kuwait and change people’s misconceptions towards diabetes.
We had a meeting with KDS and told them about our idea. They were highly supportive and agreed to collaborate with us. Now, Blue Circle is the youth part of KDS. New young members joined us and we formed a lovely team. We have monthly meetings and events.
We are trying our best to make a change in our country and to prove that diabetics are absolutely capable of leading a normal life.
Sounds like you’ve got some great advocacy work going on there, Maryam. Thanks so much for sharing your story and shedding some light on the differences between the U.S. and your part of the world!