Living With Diabetes in Bulgaria
In my diabetes diagnosis story that I shared a while ago, I recalled how I was told that I had type 1 diabetes at 18 years of age and learned about the disease when I was visiting the United States. Before returning to the States to start my college experience, however, I had to go back and spend a year, my first year with diabetes, in my birth country of Bulgaria, where things are quite different in a number of areas.
A quick note on Bulgaria– as one of the most impoverished nations in Europe, we are far behind in many government institutions, including healthcare. While it is not as bad as the grave situation some third-world countries find themselves in, especially with the global rise in diabetes rates, health care in Bulgaria is still notably worse and more difficult to navigate than in the U.S. and many other Western countries.
A life with diabetes is a problem wherever you are, of course, but it becomes especially dangerous when you have little certainty over how reliable your shipment of diabetes supplies and insulin will be, and when you are required to constantly be having check-ups with the doctor to make sure you “still have diabetes” and are not wasting the government’s (limited) money. Waiting hours for your doctor to see you once every 3 months for an examination or to get your A1C tested in America, as I do, seems like a small inconvenience compared to the uncertainty that abounds in diabetes care back home.
There are good people over there and when I had to go into the hospital for three days to stabilize my condition, my stay wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be, thanks to some pleasant doctors and nurses. It was my very first hospital stay for anything. At first it was a bit of a shock to me as I never thought something could make me so sick as to force me to spend 3 days confined to a bed in a single room, at least not at such a young age. But type 1 diabetes can strike anyone at any time.
According to statistics posted by RightDiagnosis, Bulgaria has close to 10,000 type 1 diabetics-– which does not seem like a large number at first glance– but you have to take into account that the country only has a population of seven million. And for almost all of these people, it is a life burdened by many diabetes-related healthcare requirements, check-ups and pushing through a burdensome legal system, a life that faces serious health dangers if your insulin refills are not ready on time or your prescription gets lost or changed without you knowing.
As I only spent a year in Bulgaria with diabetes, I did not have to wade through too many of these problems, and in many ways I am glad for the easier, more reliable process in America (which still has areas that can be improved, of course, as many struggling with insurance issues will tell you).
I worry, however, about the thousands of diabetics in Bulgaria and millions around the world who have to live with a chronic disease their entire lives and face so many struggles under a slow and unbalanced healthcare system. Yes, reforms, better treatments and more information would all be useful, but that is not so easy to achieve and cannot help everyone. Change would take decades, even as the generations come up against so many other obstacles…
This all constitutes a major reason why I truly believe a cure for diabetes is the only clear solution to the many problems associated with this disease. We need to be raising awareness, but we cannot wait any longer for a focused, determined change in the search for a cure that will target eliminating diabetes from the group of chronic diseases.
All the diabetes foundations are great at what they do and there is a reason why they inspire so much positive energy and action in the community. I have seen firsthand how motivated and determined diabetes advocates are.
However, we are still not using all that positive energy towards a focused goal. We need to be bolder and more precise. We need to set the course of action that the foundations will follow. We want everyone to live a normal, healthy and happy life free of the roadblocks of diabetes, but the only way we can see that happen is if we start making some serious progress in the research labs.
We cannot be satisfied simply with observing without a focused target (a Practical Cure) any longer – we need to change things, and I am firmly convinced that joining the JDCA offers a very strong platform for that change.