by Quentin Wodon
Today is World Diabetes Day. Last week was World Interact Week. This post is about a great project for children with diabetes in Bolivia that was supported by members of an Interact club in the United States.
Diabetes is a common and lifelong condition. In the US, 9.3% of the population has diabetes. Most patients (about 95%) have type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with genetics or obesity. By contrast, type 1 diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes) is an autoimmune disease whose exact cause remains unknown, but is likely related to viruses and genetics and has nothing to do with obesity.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed among children whose pancreas does not produce insulin anymore. Without insulin, blood sugars rise. Lack of treatment can lead to severe illness and death. Type 1 diabetes needs to be managed very carefully, but knowledge on how to take care of it is often weaker in low income communities.
In Santa Cruz in Bolivia, about 10% of the population, mostly low-income individuals, is said to be diabetic. As elsewhere type 1 diabetes affects mostly children. The cost of managing type 1 diabetes is high, and most families in poverty in Bolivia cannot afford to send their children to camps where they could learn how to manage their condition. Campo Amigo is unique grassroots educational initiative championed by local health professionals and volunteers under the leadership of Dr. Roxana Barbero to serve diabetic children through an annual four-day educational camp in Bolivia.
During the camp the children learn about diabetes (how to give themselves insulin doses, measure their blood sugars, eat healthy meals, do physical activities, etc.). The camp provides children not only with valuable training, but also with equipment such as glucose meters and medicine (insulin). The experience of the camp also helps fight the isolation in which some of the children with diabetes live. They can share experiences and feel part of a community that cares.
It Takes a Village…
Last year a few members of the Interact club of Washington DC raised $7,000 for Campo Amigo ($2,000 by themselves and $5,000 through an application for a grant from the International Service Committee of the Rotary Club of Washington, DC). To fundraise, two members of the Interact club completed a sprint triathlon, an international distance triathlon, a half marathon, and a long distance bike race. With two other members of the club, they also ran a marathon relay.
The camp was held in Muyurina Campus, Santa Cruz, on December 19-22, 2013. It was organized by Roxana and her team at the Programa de Enfermedades no Transmisibles del Servicio Departamental de Salud de Santa Cruz, and by Dr. Patricia Blanco from the Fundación Vida Plena de Cochabamba. The funding raised by members of the Interact club covered the cost of the camp which served 53 children and youth from many parts of the country, including La Paz, Cochabamba, Beni, and rural areas apart from Santa Cruz.
The partner Rotary club in Bolivia was the Rotary Club Amboró in Santa Cruz. Other partner organizations – especially in terms of volunteers to run the camp, included the Red Boliviana de Diabetes Juvenil, members of the Sociedad de Endocrinología, the Fundación Niño Feliz, and LifeScan for test strips and glucometers. In kind contributions were received from several firms, including Cascada del Oriente, TIGO, BELLCORP and Arcor, as well as Johnson and Johnson.
All staff running the camp worked as volunteers. A total of 19 doctors, three nurses and one psychologist volunteered. For that reason the cost of running the camp was very low. Housing and meals were provided at low cost thanks to a local NGO. The overall cost of attending the four-day camp was only slightly above $100 per child, including bus transportation from the child’s home (throughout Bolivia) to the camp, meals, lodging, and all diabetes equipment and medicine.
Campo Amigo is a great example of low cost and potentially high impact projects through which Interact, Rotaract, and Rotary clubs can make a difference on the ground by partnering with local teams with great experience and dedication.