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International Diabetes Center

By David Mendosa

Last Update: January 1, 1998

When you think about it, it's not surprising that most of the visitors to the International Diabetes Web Site in Australia come from the United States. The International Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, set it up as an international site from the time it first went online in November 1996.

They donate to third-world countries.

"We didn't want it to be seen as an Australian site or even an institute-based site," says Dr. Matthew Cohen, who is the institute's director of medical services. A practicing diabetologist, Dr. Cohen is in charge of a team of 12 professionals who deliver medical services to about 6,000 people with diabetes. In his spare time he conceived the idea of the site, designed it, and wrote much of its content.

When Dr. Cohen spoke to me from Australia, he said that about three-fourths of the site's visitors come from the United States, "reflecting the percentage of Internet users around the world." The only reason 10 percent of the site's visitors are Australian is because the institute happens to be located there, he says. "We are quite happy to have an international representation."

You could say that the site's claim on its opening page is also international. It asserts that people need to look no further for information on diabetes because "we have done it all for you." When I commented to Dr. Cohen that this was a bit of Aussie hyperbole, his rejoinder was that he "learned that from you Americans."

Actually, the site's unique organization makes it a wonderful introduction to the world of diabetes. It's divided into six separate sections. One is for people with diabetes, another is for those looking for information for family members or friends, and a third is for students looking for material for assignments. Three other sections are for doctors, researchers, and other health professionals.

Anyone can access the site's special reports section, which includes data on the prevalence of diabetes in Australia and elsewhere. While less than 4 percent of all Australians have diabetes, Australian Aborigines suffer the fourth highest rate of diabetes in the world, about 22 percent. The only groups with a greater prevalence are urban Melanesians in Papua New Guinea (37 percent), Micronesians in Nauru (40 percent), and Pima Indians in the United States (almost 50 percent). By comparison, about 6 percent of all Americans have diabetes.

All visitors to the site can also explore its online shop and order a range of educational material, such as the Australian book, The G.I. Factor [now called The New Glucose Revolution]. "This book by Brand-Miller and colleagues is our best selling item, with most purchasers logging in from the U.S.," Dr. Cohen says.

The shop actually raises few funds for the site. The site's two sponsors, Bayer and Novo Nordisk, paid for its production costs.

The site's unique "Celebrity Charity Auction" has been a successful fund raiser, Dr. Cohen says. It offers items such as a cricket bat signed by Sir Donald Bradman and checks from celebrities such as Archbishop Tutu and actor Kirk Douglas. The site displays the current bid, which is updated as soon as someone sends in a higher one.

The biggest human interest story on this site is what they call the "emergency insulin distribution program." Since 1986 the institute has collected insulin, syringes, and test strips that it then donates to countries where they aren't available.

"Ron Raab, who has diabetes and works with us, set it up initially with patients who had unused insulin," Dr. Cohen relates. "They just dropped it in a box here and we sent it off to countries that didn't have insulin." But as requests came in from around the world, the program expanded to collect insulin that was about to expire and would otherwise be destroyed.

By now, the program has sent more than 85,000 vials of insulin, 1 million syringes, and 2,000 boxes of test strips to Tanzania, parts of the former Yugoslavia, Ghana, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, and Papua New Guinea. Dr. Cohen reckons that it's just "a drop in the ocean."

Still, the program has saved many lives. It needs contributions to pay for transportation costs. That's something I know you can easily do online when you visit this outstanding Web site. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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