Diabetes in India for a Young Woman
Being diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager came as a challenge in itself and especially in a developing country like India. I had already spent a significant portion of my teenage years without it, so everyone knew me without diabetes — I was the carefree girl binging on junk food and ice cream. Little did I know, there was a battle being fought within, my body readjusting its metabolism to survive. And then it broke down … taking its last gasps.
I remember being rushed to the ER on a January morning and being poked with cannulas and IV drips. I felt so confused, scared and alone despite being surrounded by my family. Something was definitely wrong, but what? Was I going to die? Was it some deadly communicable disease I had read about in school? There were no answers but tears in my parents’ eyes. I was later counselled that I had a chronic autoimmune disease “Type 1 diabetes.”
I was told to hide my diagnosis from others, because in India, any chronic illness comes with a whole lot of social stigma, even in a well-educated family. I used to go into washrooms before meals to inject my insulin. I used to hide my insulin pens and my glucometer. Eating food at regular timings even without feeling hungry was a necessity, a necessity to live. A necessity to not drop into disastrous low blood sugars, a necessity to function.
The low and high sugar roller coaster and frequent injections of high insulin doses changed me into a very irritated person. I could not share how I felt with anyone. It was something I had never heard of before as well, and that scared me to no end. Diabetes was the disease of the old or the overweight, wasn’t that taught in school?!
I stopped talking to people and lost my friends, because I always felt awful and irritated. As a teenager, I just couldn’t handle anything in life. It was that time of my life, where transforming into a young adult I was supposed to learn how to make critical decisions, but I failed everywhere. I couldn’t handle anything. I was emotionally shattered and mentally broken. I wanted to talk and meet people living with similar problems, but I could never find any diabetes camps or diabetic friendly groups in my country to help me. I used to always ask myself, am I the only one living with diabetes??
Working in Diabetes
Somehow, the years of denial, anger and frustration passed. I feel fortunate that I was able to join the field of medicine, so I could understand my disease better. They said it was going to get easier when I started handling things by myself. With more years, I was told, I would better understand and would be able to predict how my blood sugars behaved. They said, “It’s going to get easier.”
But it never became easy.
I struggled to get everything in balance. It took me a very long time and during that time, I thought, “If it’s so difficult for me then how would the underprivileged be handling this disease in India?” Working in the hospital during my medical school training, I had sympathy for any diabetic who was admitted. I used to rush to meet them and tell them, “You are not alone.” I met young patients whose families couldn’t even afford insulin. I looked forward to talking to young and old diabetics and supporting them to get through this, but often all I saw were shattered eyes as if something deadly had happened. People weren’t inclined to open up. I learnt with experience that it was not just me though. People in India are taught to ignore and hide their diabetes, because it is considered a flaw.
Diabetes in India
According to the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, more than 60% of world’s population with diabetes comes from Asia, India having the highest rate of diagnosis. The prevalence of diabetes is estimated to increase by 65% by 2030, resulting in 1 in 5 people in the world with diabetes to be Indian. With the widespread lack of knowledge, especially about Type 1 diabetes, care impedes patient’s ability to manage the disease. Some of the major barriers living with diabetes in India include:
- Lack of knowledge and awareness – Diabetes is a multi-faceted disease and not just one type. People with Type 1 diabetes face innumerable questions and ignorant statements like, “You had too much sugar” or “You deserve it and are paying for your past life deeds.”
- Cultural and social stigma – Being a girl with diabetes in India and being open about your disease does bring problems when it comes to marriage and pregnancy. And it’s definitely not easy for the young diabetics living in the rural areas of India where there is a lot of ignorance about the disease.
- Lack of availability of early and effective treatment – Many are given the “herbal concoctions” that fail to bring a cure.
- Access and affordability of insulin – There is no provision of medical insurance in India for people with Type 1 diabetes, so we buy everything out of pocket, including blood sugar strips, glucose meters and daily insulin. The government hospital provides insulin only to a few and not all variations of insulin are available. It is not easily accessible and the cost of insulin isn’t easily affordable to the common man. Insulin pumps are available, but expensive for the middle-class society, and not just that, wearing an insulin pump and protecting it from the snatchers on the road is another challenge.
- Lack of affordable healthcare facilities – A good health care facility isn’t easily affordable and it’s difficult to provide special care to all diabetic patients suffering from complications with high and low blood sugars. There is a lack of awareness among patients about the disease complications and how to prevent morbidity and mortality.
- Lack of emotional and mental support – Diabetes destroys a person both physically and emotionally and the majority with this chronic illness suffer from depression. Living with Type 1 and dealing with it on a daily basis is emotionally draining for children and young adults alike.
There’s a lot which needs to be done to bring awareness about diabetes and to provide easy access to the diabetes essentials. India is a beautiful country and we need to save the land from the diabetic monster! Steps of improvement are being taken but it’s important to hasten the process to save thousands of people dying because of the lack of awareness. Diabetes has taught me to stay strong even in the toughest of the hours. Every day is a new challenge and a new battle to fight and I’m always ready to face it strong! Namaste!