Marked every November 14th since 2007, WDD was originally envisioned and championed by the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) as part of a successful campaign to get the United Nations (UN) to adopt a resolution recognizing diabetes as a global health threat.
Historically, on WDD people with diabetes (PWDs) have gathered in large numbers at public places to “make noise” and draw TV news coverage to help raise awareness. The whole month of November, in fact, is marked by the U.S. as National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM) that’s normally peppered with large in-person gatherings.
But this year, with COVID-19 on the rise in nearly every country on the planet, and with PWDs disproportionately at risk from serious illness and death from the virus, what is to become of WDD and the many community events normally honoring NDAM?
Is it safer to skip all of it? Or, with healthcare resources being stretched to the limit worldwide, is it perhaps more important than ever to make some noise?
With the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting treatment services for non-communicable diseases are “severely disrupted since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” and with diabetes health services partially or completely disrupted in 49 percent of the world, WDD 2020 is still a “go,” although it — like all else — will look a little different this year, according to the IDF.
Banting and the Blue Circle
For a quick background, you should know that November 14 was chosen as WDD because it is the birthdate of Dr. Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin, who is generally hailed as a diabetes hero.
Following the 2006 UN resolution establishing WDD, the Blue Circle was chosen by the IDF as an international symbol for diabetes. The color choice was in part because blue is the official color of the UN flags and logos, and partly because it’s the color of the sky that vaults all national borders: A way of saying diabetes affects us all.
NDAM, on the other hand, was established 45 years ago in 1975, although Congress and the U.S. presidents didn’t start passing proclamations recognizing November as “Diabetes Month” until the early 1980s.
IDF playing the blues
Given the Blue Circle symbol, blue is the theme color for WDD across the globe.
Last year, there were 27 events in 17 countries to mark WDD, many of them convening crowds. This year, one of the main events will be a TV news-style program commissioned by the IDF called Diabetes Matters, which will air throughout Europe and beyond starting on November 14, 2020.
Historically, another big part of WDD is the lighting of many of the world’s iconic monuments with blue light. On the surface of it, this seems like an ideal socially distanced activity, but these lightings were usually celebrated with large public gatherings.
Will Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, New York’s Empire State Building, Kuwait Towers, Lanzhou’s Three Leaves Pavilion, Rome’s Coliseum, Egypt’s Sphinx and Pyramids, the Sydney Opera House, and the Tower of London be illuminated in blue light this year?
As of this writing, the WWD 2020 map shows only a single monument on deck: A Novo Nordisk-sponsored lighting of a landmark in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
It looks like November 14 will be a dark night this year.
Meanwhile, the IDF creates a new focused theme to go hand in hand with WDD each year. For 2020, you might have expected a specific COVID-19 reference, and it is. This year’s theme is Nurses Make the Difference and will focus on the vital need for education and funding for these frontline healthcare professionals.
COVID-appropriate Diabetes Awareness Month?
Here in the U.S., NDAM runs all November and is traditionally observed by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the JDRF with a wide range of group events. But this year, with 40 percent of American COVID-19 deaths being people with diabetes, how does that affect plans?
The ADA is responding by flat-out skipping in-person events for the remainder of the year, deploying 2020’s ubiquitous “abundance of caution” language, which given the risks shown by current statistics, may be the understatement of the century.
This is not to say that the ADA has abandoned plans to observe the month entirely. Like much of the rest of the country, the ADA is going online in a whole new way. Daisy Diaz, of the ADA media relations team, says, “We have many exciting virtual events taking place throughout the month.”
She says these will include virtual workouts, a cooking demo to “perfect your chef skills and try a new dish,” a “conversation about the realities” that people of color with diabetes (POCLWD) face, and a conversation with the National Eye Institute.
But that’s not all, as they say on late-night TV. According to Diaz, the organization will spend the month taking “a deep dive into the existing systemic inequities in American healthcare, existing barriers to access care and medications, and the resources to maintain overall wellness with the disease.” This means research and a host of conversations with American healthcare leaders.
At the JDRF, the organization has launched a “Power of Us” campaign that re-imagines one of its signature events for the realities of the COVID world. One Walk, which historically brought together more than 900,000 people annually in group walking events in communities across the nation, will be replaced this year with solo walking and a virtual finish line “festival” followed by a virtual ceremony, both on the JDRF’s declared T1D Day, November 1. Both events will be broadcast online and can be watched throughout the month.
“The structure of the event may look different,” says Alyson Levine, the organization’s assistant vice president of fundraising programs, “but at its core, the event is still the same, and we look forward to celebrating with our community.” The JDRF has set the goal of a collective total of 1,600,000 miles walked by socially distanced lone wolves and small family groups this year.
JDRF has also introduced a brand-new COVID-friendly way to participate in their fundraising bicycle rides, called JDRF My Ride. This extends through the end of 2020, and allows anyone to take part either indoors on a trainer, outdoors on a bike, with friends or on their own.
Making diabetes visible
Meanwhile, the nonprofits Beyond Type 1 and Beyond Type 2 have launched a COVID-friendly awareness program called TheDropSpotted for Diabetes Month. It’s billed as a campaign for people with all kinds of diabetes “to fight stigma, combat misunderstanding, and ultimately change how the general public views diabetes.”
Danna Howe, the organization’s director of brand communications, tells us that “members of the community — or anyone in support of the cause — are asked to post photos wearing a Beyond Type 1 Drop Hat, or simply using #TheDropSpotted hashtag in posts, while sharing something about their personal diabetes experience or something they wish the world understood about diabetes. The organizations are also supplying shareable social graphics on their combined website. The theme of this campaign is making An Invisible Disease Visible.
The now-defunct Diabetes Hands Foundation’s Big Blue Test, a WDD event from years gone by, would seem to be the perfect socially distanced way to mark the day. That campaign encouraged people with diabetes to test their blood sugar, do some exercise, and test again a little while later to illustrate the positive effects of physical activity on health. Thousands of people participated and posted their results in years past.
The Diabetes Hands Foundation was shuttered in 2018, but much of its DNA lives on in the twin Beyond organizations. Todd Boudreaux, Beyond Type 1’s director of content told DiabetesMine that reviving the Big Blue Test was “not something that we’ve been discussing at BT1 for this year.” But he added, “It seems like it was a cool project, though!”
A musical benefit
Musical fans will rejoice at the planned From Broadway With Love concert being organized by New Orleans-based nonprofit Kyler Cares.
That foundation provides grants for continuous glucose monitors (CGM) and insulin pumps for children and young adults “to assist individuals and families in need with the staggering cost associated with acquiring these sophisticated life-saving devices.”
Kyler Cares was founded in 2018 by actor, singer, and Broadway veteran, Kyle Banks, who was diagnosed with T1D in 2015 while performing with Disney Theatrical’s production of The Lion King.
In honor of WDD 2020, the foundation is excited to be hosting a concert that will feature Broadway cast members from Hamilton, The Lion King, The Tina Turner Musical, and The Book of Mormon. The show will be streamed via the Kyler Cares Youtube channel on WDD, November 14, 2020, at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Also featured will be panel discussions with the endocrinology care team at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and the COO of Insulet Corporation (makers of the Omnipod tubeless pump), Bret Christensen. Online admission is free with RSVP and donations will be accepted for the Kyler Cares Fund throughout the performance. It should be a fun evening of song and dance!
At the federal level
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), while primarily a research organization and provider of recommendations to clinicians, does feature an annual NDAM web page that’s scheduled to be refreshed for 2020 on November 1. According to their spokesperson Alyssa Voss, the site will “feature updates throughout the month.”
Still on, just different
So, WDD and NDAM still matter, perhaps more than ever given that people are so physically disconnected these days. Both are still being marked in a variety of ways, just with a new face this year. Smaller. More distant. Virtual.
Be sure to tune in from a computer near you.