Mention diabetes to most people and it will probably conjure up an image of a tubby middle-aged person with a sweet tooth. However, this stereotype is often the polar opposite of the millions of diabetics out there, especially the hundreds of thousands who live with Type 1 — myself included.
Unlike the lifestyle-related causes often linked to Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 has nothing to do with waistlines or advancing years (in fact it is diagnosed early on for many). Though the precise cause is unknown, the autoimmune disease develops when the pancreas attacks itself.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 10, 23 years ago. That’s 23 years of multiple daily injections, finger pricks, carb-counting and doctor’s appointments — some better than others. One endocrinologist in Dubai prescribed enough insulin to bring down a horse. Another dished out constipation medication, while a third advised starvation.
Health insurance is its own beast. Ticking the “diabetes” box and watching the premiums rocket exponentially does more harm than a tub of ice cream. Financially, at least.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. With constant medical advancements, life with diabetes only continues to get easier. From my experience, one of the silver linings of a childhood diagnosis is that you learn to get on with it. Pop star Nick Jonas has Type 1 diabetes, as does Hollywood actress Halle Berry and former UK prime minister Teresa May. Love them or loathe them, they haven’t let their diagnosis hold them back.
And here’s the secret: the quest isn’t to find a cure or wave a magic wand — it’s learning to live with it, which is where GluCare, the world’s first diabetes subscription service that launched in the UAE this year, aims to come in.
What is GluCare?
GluCare Integrated Diabetes Centre is a new clinic in Dubai that pairs doctors with technology for more efficient management of diabetes. To call it revolutionary in the game of diabetes treatments is an understatement.
By using CGMs — or continuous glucose monitors — the team of experts at GluCare can monitor diabetic patients in real-time, while a dedicated app makes it possible to directly message the care team with any questions or concerns.
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted these white sensors on diabetics; they’re usually the size of a bottle top and placed on the upper arm area.
The CGMs collect blood sugar data and send it to an app that can be accessed by third parties — a game-changer for parents and those who need a bit of a helping hand.
The long days and nights of managing blood sugar levels — which are affected not only by food consumption, but also by sleep, stress, the weather, the menstrual cycle, exercise (or a lack thereof), illness, travel, water intake and adrenalin — is enough to get on anyone’s nerves.
It’s far too common for many to simply stop monitoring, and therefore managing glucose levels, correctly out of exhaustion from never getting them right.
CGMs help reduce that, with the modern versions going even further. As well as Type 1 diabetics, the Jumeirah clinic also cares for Type 2, prediabetic, bariatric and thyroid patients, using a subscription model that is covered by selected insurance policies.
For those without adequate insurance, the monthly subscription starts at Dh1,695 for Type 1 and Dh794 for Type 2 diabetics, without the added cost of insulin or an insulin pump. There’s also a one-off starter kit fee of Dh3,995.
For that price, patients get unlimited CGMs, a Fitbit to monitor their activity and unlimited appointments with doctors, dieticians and life coaches. But is it worth it?
What to expect at GluCare
The most impressive thing about my visit isn’t the sprawling villa, the knowledgeable team or even the in-house barista — it’s the speed of just about everything.
On arrival, blood tests, a body composition scan and retinal screening are completed in record time, with results turned around within 90 minutes by the onsite lab.
It means that when I meet with the endocrinologist, he knows everything from my three-month blood sugar average to what the backs of my eyes look like. There’s no waiting for results, traipsing back for follow-ups or speculative action plans; we have everything we need to start making important changes straight away.
Omnipod — the sweetest new technology
As part of my trial, I’m given a two-week supply of the Omnipod, a tubeless insulin pump that can be worn directly on the skin and eliminates the need for injections. Think of it like a little pancreas I can stick onto my arm.
However, instead of my brain and organs working together, insulin is administered using a small remote control that looks like a smartphone, with fractional doses allowing for much more precise blood sugar readings.
GluCare brought the device to the region four years ago. Before that, it was used widely across Europe and the US, and routinely prescribed by the NHS in the UK.
I quickly fell in love with my Omnipod and the new freedom it brought me, particularly the pre-set dosages that meant I could lie in until noon on a weekend. But, as the trial came to an end, so did my pump access, which isn't covered by my insurance or a GluCare subscription. It’s frustrating and brings home how medical advancement can be limited to a select few, even in futuristic hubs like the UAE.
I’ve often rued not having a series of medical professionals on speed dial. However, with the GluCare app, I do. I can directly message my endocrinologist, as well as a diabetes educator, dietician and life coach.
The service feels like an arm around the shoulder, and for the newly diagnosed or children with diabetes, the reassurance at what is frankly a terrifying time is priceless.
In three weeks with GluCare, my average blood sugar level dropped considerably, leading to improved productivity and mood, much to the delight of my husband.
Above all, GluCare helps take a bit of the load, so I can focus on what really matters: putting diabetes to the back of my mind and getting on with life.
More information about GluCare in the UAE is available at glucare.health