Many health experts consider diabetes to be the biggest public health problem of the 21st century. Consider these sobering statistics from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse:
- 18.8 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes.
- It's estimated that an additional 7 million people have the disease, but don't know it.
- Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in this country.
- Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke and a leading cause of kidney failure, non-traumatic lower limb amputations, and new cases of blindness.
- At any given age, a person with diabetes’ overall risk of death is twice that of those people of the same age without diabetes.
Why the grim statistics for a disease that can be controlled or even prevented? According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), an umbrella organization of over 200 national diabetes associations around the world, a major problem is lack of public attention to the early diagnosis and management of this disease—and to people's fundamental human rights to life and health. As hard as it is to believe in a country as wealthy as the U.S., there are millions of Americans with diabetes that go undiagnosed until complications arise, lack access to affordable health care, medicines, and needed equipment, and are denied opportunities to manage their diabetes properly in schools and workplaces.
The IDF strongly believes that those with diabetes can play an essential part in confronting this silent killer by knowing their rights, so they developed an International Charter of Rights and Responsibilities of People With Diabetes (see the document at http://www.idf.org/advocacy/charter-of-rights).
Do you know your rights and responsibilities as a person with diabetes? In a nutshell:
Your Diabetes Rights
1. You have the right to care.
Good healthcare is essential for diabetics. You deserve access to affordable and quality healthcare at all stages of your life. When receiving diabetic services, you should expect to be treated with respect and dignity and allowed to make complaints about any aspect of your healthcare without it affecting your treatment.
2. You have the right to information and education.
Knowledge is power! You should expect your healthcare providers to give you sufficient education about managing your disease, and information about where to access additional resources for learning. You should be allowed to be involved in planning your own healthcare and setting your health goals. You should be given the names, dosages, actions, and possible side effects of any medications your healthcare provider wants you to take. You should have access to your own medical records, as well as the right to share that information with others only as you deem necessary.
3. You have the right to social justice.
You have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace, at school, and in other public settings. You must be allowed time and privacy as well as a clean and safe place for blood sugar monitoring and medication administration, as well as sufficient time off for medical appointments. You should also have access to affordable medications and monitoring technologies.
Are all of these rights legally enforceable? Many of them are. While you may have to champion your own cause when it comes to insisting upon adequate diabetic education at your doctor's office, you can get legal help to end discrimination at school, work, and other settings where you are being treated unfairly because of your diabetes. One place to start is by talking to a legal advocate through the American Diabetes Association. By calling 1-800-DIABETES, you'll be put in touch with someone who can help you to understand your legal rights and help you to take action.
Along with rights come responsibilities. The IDF lays out some major responsibilities for those with diabetes. These include:
- Being honest with your healthcare providers about all aspects of your life that may influence your diabetic care, such as your lifestyle behavior, the medications you take, and your allergies.
- Carrying through with the agreed-upon treatment plan for your diabetes, such as blood sugar monitoring, medications, and healthy lifestyle behaviors.
- Sharing any problems you're having with your diabetes management with your healthcare providers so the plan can be revised.
- Telling others in your life about your diabetes if this knowledge can help them to support you, such as those at home, in the workplace, and at school.