SciMar’s Wellness Transformation Network partners with Diabetes Canada

It wasn’t long after the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 that it became clear that people with diabetes were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

And so the already-extensive advocacy work of Diabetes Canada took on new dimensions. The national organization championed remote work, virtual care, and early vaccines for people living with diabetes.

Kimberley Hanson
Kimberley Hanson: “I think that we need the kind of research and clinical trials that SciMar is doing to help us better understand this disease.”

For Kimberley Hanson, Executive Director of Diabetes Canada, the urgency to develop a robust national strategy on diabetes has become even more clear during the pandemic: “If we had a national strategy, people with diabetes and other chronic conditions would be less vulnerable.”

A national strategy, says Hanson, would incorporate Indigenous wisdom and look at health policy, promoting and sharing novel research, promoting wellness, and other elements related to addressing the needs of people living with type 1 diabetes, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes.

“The World Health Organization recommends that every country have a diabetes strategy,” says Hanson, who has been with Diabetes Canada for four years. “They know that the ones that do have a strategy have a lower prevalence of the disease and lower costs of treating it. Canada is in the worst third of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in terms of both of those items.”

Hanson is hopeful that Diabetes 360°—her organization’s roadmap for a Canada-wide strategy—will accelerate the conversation and move the agenda forward. There have been some positive signs, as the federal government threw its support behind establishing a “national framework for diabetes” in the 2021 budget. An important step, especially in a COVID-focused year, but much work needs to be done and innovative community initiatives such as SciMar’s Wellness Transformation Network have an important role to play.

The Wellness Transformation Network, scheduled to launch in the fall of 2021, will measure the effectiveness of a variety of lifestyle interventions through the lens of SciMar’s novel science. Participant groups will come from non-profit organizations, businesses, and Indigenous communities.

“We’ve always designed Diabetes 360° to be implemented via public-private partnerships in the broadest sense, because a problem as large and complex as diabetes can’t be solved by any one actor or one community on their own,” says Hanson. “And so partners like SciMar and its Wellness Transformation Network are going to be critical in ways that we can imagine and in some ways that we can’t even imagine yet. I think that we need the kind of research and clinical trials that SciMar is doing to help us better understand this disease. There’s so much misunderstanding about diabetes, and that gets in the way of its prevention, its treatment, and healthy patient outcomes.”

Hanson is also excited by the fact that what SciMar learns through the Wellness Transformation Network at the grassroots level can be shared and replicated.

“We need solutions to be developed, tested, and learned from at the community level. The kind of work that the Wellness Transformation Network is enabling is going to be key in the communities where it’s working, but also in others that can borrow from the great experiences that communities will have as part of the network and then apply them in their own way,” she says. “There is a synergy here between Diabetes Canada and the Wellness Transformation Network in their approach to co-creating solutions with communities. I think that one of the core principles of Diabetes 360° is that it’s a common framework that’s meant to be applied in a customized way in each community, province, or region. It’s meant to be adapted and adaptable.”

For Hanson, the keys to the success of a national strategy include reducing stigma, increasing awareness, and deeply understanding diabetes in all its forms.

“If I could wave a magic wand, it would be to help everybody have a more accurate understanding of what the disease is, and what its risk factors are and aren’t. I think that would go a long way to helping people feel empowered to take charge of their health and to do what they can about the factors they can control, so that the burden on people’s lives and the health care system would be reduced,” says Hanson. “This is consistent with the principles of the Wellness Transformation Network and its approach to finding health solutions and creating them with communities.”