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Updated: September 16, 2013 19:35 IST

For women, by women

Geeta Padmanabhan
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Kiran Mazumdar Shaw Photo: Bijoy Ghosh
The Hindu
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocon launched the Women2Women movement that turns the spotlight on diabetes among women

“The objective of the Women2Women movement is to bring to centre-stage the issue of diabetes among women,” said Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, MD, Biocon, meeting the press at Taj Coromandal ahead of its launch. While there is recognition that diabetes in women has huge socio-economic repercussions, its serious impact on the individual is ignored, she said. Seen in a continuum, from gestational to juvenile to adult onset, the incidence is much higher than generally thought. “Diabetes among women should be treated differently,” she said.

Shaw talked of risk factors — genetic and lifestyle-related. Nearly 50% of gestational diabetes (GD) becomes full-blown post-partum if left untreated, she said. Women forget about it, information about GD and its connection to obesity hardly reaches those impacted by it, and even where diagnosed, only 50% receive therapy and very few are compliant.

Focus, the key

“I was inspired by Usha’s (Endocrinologist Dr. Usha Sriram, the force behind the crusade) enthusiasm,” she said. One of Time magazine’s 100 most influential globals, Shaw added, “If you’re in a position of influence, use it for the right things, help bring them to focus.” Despite being busy with her business, research, civic activism, travel and mentoring, she made time to be at the launch to address her audience that included pioneers in GD treatment such as Dr. Seshiah, Duchess Club members, models of fitness-regime Neena Reddy and Suhasini Maniratnam, educators Umayal Ramanathan and YGP, women active in social causes, school principals and children.

Compered by dancer Anita Ratnam, it was a launch to remember. The audience was treated to a short film by SB Kanthan which touched on all aspects of diabetes in women and had expert comments by Dr. Gita Arjun. The event included the launch of the W2W website, newsletter and brochure, an easy-to-follow A to Z of Diabetes; Dr. Usha Sriram’s interesting “making of the W2W” narrative (“The American woman who owned the domain name simply donated it when she heard of its purpose”), how-I-manage-my diabetes stories by “patient champions”; pledge administered by popular debater Bharathi Bhaskar; a lovely Odissi number by Nityagram students; and a dinner with a ‘diabetic’ menu of salads, moong dosa, multi-grain rotis, rajma, mixed/baked exotic vegetables, saffron pulao, broken-ragi dahi-baath and divine moong payasam. And every participant went home with a goodie bag of a tape-measure, diabetes-control programmer, a foot-shaped wall-hanging with instructions for footcare, copies of the brochure/newsletter and informational flyers.

Making a difference

“I dreamt of being a doctor, but didn’t make it,” said Shaw to the audience. “As an entrepreneur, my journey in the bio-pharma space has the same goal — making a difference to health in the country.” Biocon’s area of focus is addressing the financial burden of treating chronic diseases, and the life-long cost of diabetes necessitates a strategy for access and affordability of treatment. “Our efforts at making the cheapest insulin have made its access possible, our global entry has brought down its price,” she said.

The movement is also about prevention, she said. She pointed out that initiatives on screening pregnant women are not designed with objectives — they are well-intentioned but unplanned. They have to be segmented for type of diabetes, for familial, gestational aspects. Where are the financial models? What will the government do with the data it collects after screening?

It is also about how women see themselves, she explained. “Women believe nothing can happen to them. Age should not worry us. I turned sixty, my weight worried me and I have been shedding it. Active ageing keeps us healthy.”

We have no national healthcare system, she said. There are working models, but they have to be scaled up. We must work in public–private partnership with the government, make sure that schemes and programmes are understood and resources are used better. “My strong message is early diagnosis,” she declared. “We all have a role to play, we must do it with passion and commitment. “Spread the word, look after yourselves, engage with people.”

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