We continue traveling the globe to bring you accounts of living with diabetes in various countries for our Global Diabetes series. This month, we’re happy to introduce two bubbly gals from the Netherlands (which Americans like to call Holland), Annelieke Overbeeke and Jonna Verdel — who were introduced to us via the International Diabetes Federation Young Leaders Program.
Annelieke, age 21, is studying nutrition and health at Wageningen University in the city by that name, while Jonna, age 25, works as a “customer services employee” in Utrecht.
Just as we did a few years ago in the U.S., these two ladies saw a huge gap in the support offered between being a child and being a grown-up with type 1 diabetes. So they decided to do something about it…
A Guest Post by Annelieke Overbeeke & Jonna Verdel
Hello everyone! We are Annelieke and Jonna, two girls from the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a small country in Europe, mostly known for its wooden shoes, Gouda cheese, painters, mills and bicycles.
Even though we are both living in the Netherlands, we met each other in Dubai in 2011. Not because we booked a holiday with the same touring company, but because we were both chosen to represent our country at the Young Leaders Program. So it was diabetes that connected and united us!
First, we’ll introduce ourselves to you and let you know how we came into the diabetes world.
Dual Dutch D-Stories
At age three, (1990) Jonna was diagnosed with diabetes type 1: “I can’t really remember it. I know my mother recognized the signs: I was tired and extremely thirsty. They took me to the hospital where they tested my blood sugar, gave me a sugary soda to drink and tested my blood sugar again to see if it was higher than before. After two weeks in the hospital I was allowed to go home and live my life. To me that meant playing with friends, do my best in school, occasionally misbehave and always make sure I only drank diet soft drinks and take good care of myself.
“Of course there were bad days as well, especially when I heard my kidneys were affected by my diabetes and when I ended up in the hospital again because my body rejected pump treatment and I ended up with hyperglycemia. But overall I have a positive attitude towards life.”
Annelieke was diagnosed with diabetes in 2002 while on vacation in America: “It was two months before I turned 11. I remember that I really liked it in America, they had all these cool books and they gave me a bear with diabetes named Rufus. All of this changed my attitude towards diabetes fairly quickly. Yeah it sucked, but better to make the best of it because I can’t change it! Two years later I moved to Germany and got to see how diabetes care was there. I consider myself lucky to have experienced diabetes care in three different countries and use this knowledge to improve care in the Netherlands.”
Healthcare System in the Netherlands
Currently, nearly 1 million people out of a total population of 16 million people are living with diabetes in the Netherlands. Only 740,000 of these people actually know that they have diabetes. This means at least 250,000 people haven’t been diagnosed as of yet. After asthma, diabetes is the most common chronic disease among children.
Luckily for all these people, the Dutch constitution states that the government is responsible for taking measures to ensure public health. This is why healthcare in the Netherlands is financed by a dual system that came into effect in January 2006. This system is often summed up as a “care and cure system.”
Long-term treatments are covered by a state-controlled mandatory insurance.
There are private health insurance companies, for all regular (short-term) medical treatment. This is a system of obligatory health insurance: Everyone is obliged to have health insurance and insurance companies are obliged to accept everyone. The government defines a package with a set of insured treatments that these insurance companies should provide. They can also provide additional optional health insurance packages.
This dual system should ensure that medical care is financially accessible for everyone. There is also a law that states the government should help people with a low income.
What this system means in practice is: you have to pay a monthly fee to an insurance company. You also have to pay the first expenses up to a fixed amount. The insurance company covers all the other medical expenses after that. Insulin, needles, test strips and such are covered. These belong to the defined package of insured treatments.
The healthcare system equips insurance companies and healthcare providers. This way they are able to share responsibility with people affected by diabetes. People with diabetes have access to medical supplies such as insulin, pumps and needles but also get the education they need.
There are multiple diabetes associations such as the Dutch Diabetes Foundation and Dutch Diabetes Association (DDA). These organizations have ties to the general public, politicians and policymakers, insurers and a range of other stakeholders. Much effort of the associations is put into the prevention of type 2 diabetes in the Netherlands.
The association also organizes youth activities, which people up to 16 years old can attend. Both of us went to the diabetic youth camps in The Netherlands, which was very helpful in dealing with your diabetes, sharing, getting tips about living with diabetes and making new friends.
Starting Our Group: Dia-B
Both of us have a positive attitude towards living with diabetes. The way the health care system is arranged and the associations to turn to are contributors to this. But even though we get all the medical supplies we need and there are youth camps and activities, the youth camps only go until 16, whereas the 18-25 group falls into a big gap!
You either join the adult activities or go along as a faculty member on the children’s activities. Both of us got inspired to fill this gap for young adults when we were attending the Young Leaders Program in Dubai.
We considered it to be important that young people between 17-30 years old have their own group. There is a lot that is changing when you reach this age: going to college, living on your own, first job application and other big things. These are big changes for anyone, but for someone living with diabetes it is even more challenging. It’s time to represent and connect these people!
By using social media tools we’ve set up a youth group called Dia-B, which stands for Dutch Insulin Activities – Buzz. Through the platform, we were able to gather an enthusiastic team to organize activities for Dia-B. The start-up has been great and we are making it into an official foundation!
Our group is still relatively small with about 30 core, highly active members. About 80% of those are pumpers. Our own doctors are very active and help promote us to their patients and are willing to be speakers at our events. We are also working closely with the Diabetes Fonds (diabetes research in NL) and DVN (diabetes patient organization).
Activities we have done in different areas of the country are walking with a team of Dia-B for the JDRF walk, a BBQ, survival weekend, pizza-paintball-day and many more! Not only do we have activities, we also put up resources for our target group on the website, twitter and Facebook. We connect to people via social media and it really works!
What lessons have we learned about setting up a diabetes youth group that might be useful for someone who wants to do the same in their own area?
Annelieke: Shout out until you are heard! Find some enthusiastic people to help you and get started, the rest will soon follow. Using social media to set up Dia-B was a really good idea because you can reach a lot of people quickly and then their friends and friends of friends see our website/twitter/Facebook and start following us as well. Social media is a really good way to connect people.
Jonna: Be creative, stay positive, don’t accept no for an answer and look for possibilities. I agree with Annelieke on finding enthusiastic people to help you. It will keep you motivated and helps a lot. Also, think big but realize that you have to start small to get there.
If you know any young adults with diabetes in our part of the world, please tell them to visit:
We surely will do so. Thank you, Dutch Gals Who Advocate!