“Honestly? I don’t like fighting. For months and months we tried peaceful, pleasant talks about how difficult it is to live with Type 1 diabetes, and how diabetes tech could change our lives – but that didn’t work!” explains Bridget McNulty, Type 1 diabetic and co-founder of Sweet Life Diabetes Community.
“What did work was South Africa’s Type 1 diabetics raising our voices together. I think what most members of medical aids don’t realise is that we do actually have power – when we speak as one, our medical aid has to listen.”
The result of this united voice? Discovery Health has become the first medical scheme in South Africa to offer a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) Benefit for Type 1 diabetics.
“Having access to this tech is literally life-changing,” explains Sane Mazibuko, a 31-year-old Type 1 diabetic living in Milnerton. “Instead of having 5 individual points of data from pricking my finger, I have 24 hours of constant data. I can immediately see how certain food affects my blood sugar, if I’ve taken the right amount of insulin, and if I need a snack to keep my blood sugar from going too low.”
It’s not just the convenience – or lack of pain from multiple daily fingersticks – either. The big challenge of Type 1 diabetes is keeping blood sugar in range: too high and you risk long-term complications (amputation, blindness, kidney failure, heart disease). Too low and you could end up in a coma. These risks are heightened in children, as their parents have to monitor them constantly – something which has now become a lot easier thanks to the Discovery CGM Benefit. “We use a CGM for my 8-year-old son and it has literally changed our lives,” says Nicole Silks. “It allows us to sleep at night with the peace of mind that if our son’s levels drop or go high, we’ll be notified.” Before getting a CGM, Nicole had to set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to prick her son’s finger and check his blood sugar. Now, she can sleep peacefully.
For Kirsten De Klerk, a 26-year-old hiker and Type 1 diabetic, using the FreeStyle Libre means she can safely hike Table Mountain without worrying about her blood sugar. “It empowers me to live a less limited life with diabetes,” she explains. “Now that I use this tech, there’s nothing I can’t do!”
Remote monitoring in the time of COVID-19
Another risk that is alleviated thanks to the use of these devices is needing to see a doctor in person. People with diabetes are at much higher risk for contracting serious COVID-19, and previously, blood glucose results had to be manually assessed by a doctor. But with data from a FreeStyle Libre or other CGM uploaded to the cloud, your doctor can see exactly what your blood sugar is doing every minute of the day – and spot trends so that you can make changes before they become problems.
Happy news for South African diabetics
“Our hope is that now that Discovery has been a trailblazer, other medical aids will be forced to follow suit,” explains Bridget. “We’re working with SA Diabetes Advocacy to approach other medical aids, and thereafter to appeal to government to cover this life-changing tech for Type 1 diabetics, particularly kids.” For those already on Discovery and wanting to know how to claim the benefit, here’s a step-by-step guide.
“It often feels like our medical aids don’t listen to us, I know,” concludes Bridget. “But this has proven to us that if members speak as one and offer the facts, we can be heard. We are so happy that Discovery Health has chosen to empower South African diabetics!”