What a Person with Diabetes in Mexico Wants You to Know
Editor’s Notes: People who take insulin require consistently affordable and predictable sources of insulin at all times. If you or a loved one are struggling to afford or access insulin in the US, click here.
Until 2022, there have been wide gaps in the data about the incidence and impact of type 1 diabetes across the world. According to estimates from the T1D Index by JDRF, almost 90,000 people live with type 1 diabetes in Mexico, but almost 60,000 additional people would still be alive today if everyone had access to a timely diagnosis, vital diabetes supplies and management education. An average young person diagnosed at age 10 will lose an estimated 35 years of healthy life. Globally, there are an estimated total of 3.86 million people that would be alive today if everyone had equitable access to diabetes healthcare and tools. Learn more at T1DIndex.org.
In the United States, getting affordable access to insulin, diabetes supplies and healthcare is a challenge for many. Our healthcare system is broken, insulin pricing is a mess and getting access to equitable care is shrouded in systemic racism and implicit bias.
But what about beyond the U.S.? Across the world, many people living with diabetes don’t have any access to the care they require. Similar to the U.S., other countries experience issues of implicit bias, systemic racism, inaccessible pricing, weak healthcare systems and more. But many countries don’t even have basic things like insulin, blood sugar meters, test strips, or syringes.
It’s not only that medicine and supplies are too expensive—it’s that they often do not exist. One could go into a pharmacy trying to find insulin, only to be told that there is no insulin. One could be told to keep track of blood sugar levels, but never be able to get a blood sugar meter. So what then?
Beyond Type 1 contributing writer Karime Moncada recently sat down with Karla, originally from Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. Karla is a nurse and has lived with type 1 diabetes for 16 years. She has had to face multiple difficulties since her diagnosis, from poor medical care, job discrimination, as well as lack of access to basic supplies such as insulin, which has led her to have to ration her doses. Below, we hear from Karime and Karla on life with diabetes in Mexico.
Karime: Tell us a little about yourself and your diagnosis.
Karla: I have been living with diabetes since I was 10 years old, 16 years ago. I lost more than 45 pounds and I was very thirsty and hungry. I went with my aunt to visit the family doctor and he asked me to get some lab tests done, which showed a fasting glucose of 44.4 mmol/L800 mg/dL.
I was admitted to the hospital for 10 days, but they said I had type 2 diabetes. I was treated as a person with type 2 diabetes (T2D), without insulin, for about one year. By the following July, I was admitted to the hospital again for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). That’s when I learned I actually had type 1 and started taking regular and NPH insulin.
I learned a little more about the disease thanks to a guy who had a group of young people in my city—Xalapa, Veracruz. He taught me everything and put me in contact with Dr. Moreno; she got me under control.
When I was newly diagnosed, it was very difficult to get lispro (Humalog) insulin since it was very expensive. Over the years they changed me to regular and NPH; I used these two for more than seven years. They were more accessible.
Editor’s Note: R (Regular) and N (NPH) human insulins are the most commonly available insulins outside of the US and Europe. They work differently than analog (more modern) insulins; they start working and peak at different times. If you have access to modern insulins (such Novolog, Humalog, Lantus, or Basaglar), they are considered safer and more effective, but they are also more expensive. Learn more about the types of insulin here.
Are you able to get insulin now?
I studied nursing, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was fired from my job for being at-risk personnel. That means I lost my health insurance so I have been paying for insulin on my own. I currently use glargine (Lantus) and lispro (Humalog), but I ration them so they can last the whole month.
I reduce how much I eat and I have hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which gives me headaches. When the discomfort is unbearable, I take paracetamol (acetaminophen, like Tylenol). I’ll wait until it is time to eat something to take the corresponding correction dose.
What would you like people to know about living with type 1 diabetes in Mexico?
I would like them to know that, despite advances in science and medicine, not everyone has or can afford to have good diabetes management. There is a reason we are the number one country with deaths from diabetes (of all types). But it’s so important to talk about what it is like to live with diabetes and that we are not only numbers and statistics.
With the pandemic, people with diabetes have also been discriminated against, and—as we are unemployed because of that discrimination—we do not have access to medications, strips, syringes, or medical care.
I want other people with diabetes to know that what you eat is not the only thing that affects you—what you go through, your emotions, your activities all affect you.
I would like everyone to be more empathetic.
While there are very few programs for adults living with diabetes across the globe, Life for a Child (LFAC) is dedicated to saving the lives of children and young people (under 26 years of age) with type 1 diabetes in developing countries. They provide insulin, supplies and healthcare education for people living with diabetes and healthcare providers. Learn how you can help.