Using data to fight diabetes

Around 40 million people live with type 1 diabetes across the globe. They need vital supplies such as insulin and clean needles to survive – but these can be hugely expensive, depending on where you live. With their simple visualisations, charity T1International harnessed data to show just how much diabetes costs around the world.

The cost of living with diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, which the body needs in order to use sugar as energy. They need to inject themselves with insulin several times a day, and constantly monitor their blood sugar levels to check they are not dangerously high, or dangerously low. To do this, they need a lot of insulin and a lot of equipment: a fridge to keep insulin cool, clean needles to inject it safely, and special strips and monitors to test their blood sugar levels.

Raising awareness

T1International is a small charity with a big mission: it supports local communities by giving them the tools they need to stand up for their rights, so that access to insulin and diabetes supplies becomes a reality for all. 50 per cent of people with diabetes globally have no reliable access to insulin. They wanted to raise awareness about just how much diabetes supplies cost people across the globe: depending on where you live, you might pay anything from 0 per cent to 118 per cent of your monthly income to cover your diabetes costs.

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Creating visualisations

T1International launched a survey, completed by hundreds of people from 40 countries. This gave them data on the type of insulin people took, how much it cost, the cost of their test strips, and the cost of other needs, such as medical appointments. “It confirmed what we already know – that living with diabetes is a struggle for many and an exorbitant financial burden for others,” says founder Elizabeth Rowley.

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T1International has no paid staff, and the charity needed expertise to present their findings. They were lucky enough to find a volunteer with the right skills studying at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics. He created a series of interactive data charts from the survey data, including a world map showing how much diabetes costs as a percentage of monthly income.

Real-world impact

The map and charts have proved to be vital tools for spreading the word. They’re easily shareable, visually impactful, and informative, instantly showing the striking differences between countries. Look at the charts and you’ll instantly see how big the average out-of-pocket cost of fast-acting insulin in the US is, when compared with any other country. The world map starkly demonstrates how much of a person’s average salary is lost to diabetes costs – they are 82.7 per cent of average monthly income in Brazil, 79.3 per cent in India.

“This sort of visualisation was huge for us in allowing people who hadn't really thought about some of the costs in other parts of the world to see that, and to do the comparison with monthly income from country to country,” says Elizabeth. “The insulin price crisis in the US is dramatic now: people are paying very large costs. The survey was mentioned in several different US news outlets, getting coverage for the organisation as a whole. It’s been incredibly valuable.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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