There were many highlights at last week’s World Diabetes Congress, but perhaps most impressive for me was the Living with Diabetes stream which sat proudly and comfortably amongst more traditional streams such as Basic and Clinical Science, Education and Integrated Care, Global Challenges in Health, Public Health and Epidemiology and Diabetes in Indigenous Peoples.

Including a consumer stream can be a tokenistic effort. I have seen that at conferences both here in Australia and overseas. But in Vancouver, the stream was completely embedded into the program and included outstanding consumer representation (from not only people with diabetes, but their loved ones too), as well as input from healthcare professionals, researchers and clinicians.

There were some real high points in the stream and over the next few days I will be exploring some of them in detail, but here is an overview of some of the killer sessions I attended:

  • I sat in on two talks given by partners of women with diabetes. These were, in equal measure, beautiful and personally challenging for me to sit through.
  • The session given by an adult daughter of a woman with diabetes was also difficult for me, but it looked at diabetes in the family from a very different – and rarely considered – perspective.
  • Diabetes and the family dynamic was examined with sessions from parents and carers and two psychologists in a session I chaired that looked at how the age of diagnosis impacts someone with diabetes.
  • The sessions on advocacy provided much food for thought as I heard about diabetes in places where things are really tough. (And although I didn’t hear her speak, I did meet with the inspirational Elizabeth Rowley from Type 1 International who is an advocate in every sense of the word. She is one of the IDF Young Leaders and is an example of the potential of this YLD Program. You can read more about Elizabeth in this interview she recently gave over at Six Until Me.)
  • The light was shone – quite brightly – on diabetes organisations and how they can – and must – work more closely with people living with diabetes to ensure they are relevant. This was the focus of my talk and I will write about the soon.
  • The power of social media and the DOC was given great attention with talks from some heavy weights in the community. Cherise Shockley from DSMA recounted the story of #Simonpalooza to illustrate how the community saves lives and Bastian Hauck from DeDOC spoke about an incredible initiative in Germany on World Diabetes Day and
  • Peer support was also a focus with Ed Fisher from Peers for Progress speaking about the importance of peer support being included in national health policies and  Jeff Hitchcock discussing the support offered by Children with Diabetes and Friends for Life.

(I’ll be writing lots more about each of these highlights over the next couple of weeks. Lots and lots more! Trying to get my head straight is proving to be a real challenge as it is completely and utterly full!)

The sessions in the Living with Diabetes stream were very well attended, and not just by the consumers at the conference. Several times, session chair, or the speakers themselves would ask for a show of hands to identify who was in the room. Diabetes educators were probably the most visible. It was terrific to have healthcare professional interest in this stream and I think that other conference organising committees could learn from WDC.  While some conferences have a very clear remit as being aimed at HCPs, that doesn’t mean that consumers need to be removed from the conference. Teaming HCPs with PWD to illustrate certain issues is not only a great way to engage and involve consumers, but also bring home the ‘real life’, practical aspect of what is often being discussed at a very theoretical level. It makes it real.

Congratulations to Gordon Bunyon, Chair of the Living with Diabetes stream and his committee for pulling together such a fabulous program. I was honoured to be part of it.