For most Australians, reality set in this week as the profound and far-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic touched most parts of our lives. There is virtually no precedent for what we are confronting; no clear time frame; and rising levels of anxiety and uncertainty.  And… we’re not alone, because the same issues are playing out right across the world…
 
At Diabetes Victoria, we acted quickly and in advance of the declaration of a State of Emergency by the Victorian Government on Tuesday 17 March.  We cancelled, or converted to webinars as appropriate, all face-to-face events, programs, training courses and other sessions planned until Thursday 30 April, in the first instance – although we expect this timeframe to be pushed out before too long.  We converted all internal and external face-to-face meetings to phone or video meetings, or cancelled them if that was not possible.  Finally, we encouraged our staff to work from home, if appropriate and possible, although this clearly depends on individual circumstances.
 
Our absolute priority has been to do our best to prevent the further transmission of COVID-19 in the community by minimising the risks to our staff.  We continue to be guided by advice from both the Commonwealth Department of Health and the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services.
 
We have also been very pro-active in supporting NDSS registrants in Victoria by providing them with clear advice on protecting themselves from COVID-19, given that it is well-known that people living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, are more at risk of contracting a severe form of the infection.  We have worked closely with the NDSS staff in Canberra to deal with the many queries about the supply of medications, including insulin.  We clearly understand the rising levels of anxiety within the diabetes community, but have asked all NDSS registrants to stay calm; report any local difficulties in accessing diabetes consumables; and not to stockpile supplies.  These messages have been reinforced by the Prime Minister, the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer and Diabetes Australia, among others. 
 
There are many resources to which we can refer people for advice and guidance. One of the simplest and most powerful messages came from Dr Michael Ryan: Executive Director, World Health Organisation. In addition, the WHO has issued a very helpful summary of Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations during the COVID-19 Outbreak.  For health professionals, the Australian Diabetes Society has also issued a very good Summary Document.
 
While our initial focus has been on NDSS programs and services, Diabetes Victoria has significant contractual obligations with the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services for the Life! program and with Savers Australia P/L for our collection business.  We are currently working through the implications of COVID-19 for both these important areas of our operations.
 
As a sign of things to come, last week we successfully converted our Living Well with Diabetes Victoria event to be held in Hoppers Crossing into two live webinars.  Our investment in technology in recent years enabled us to do this at short notice, with the excellent support of our Consumer Engagement team, our presenters and our sponsors.  We will shortly send out a link to both the Type 1 & Type 2 webinars to all those who registered for the event by email and will now consider delivering more of such major events in this way in the future.  One of the by-products of the current situation is that some of the changes that we have been required to make in how we work will most likely be ongoing, rather than temporary.  So… in every dark cloud, there is usually a silver lining…
 
Finally, on Friday 13 March, I was very pleased to host a working lunch with Dr James Muecke AM, the 2020 Australian of the Year.  James was very generous in outlining his plans for the remainder of the year.  I was greatly encouraged by his passion for raising awareness about the need to prevent vision loss for people living with diabetes and his commitment to support the KeepSight initiative.  It was also good to hear about James’ work with Sight For All, as well as his advocacy for reducing our intake of added sugar as a means of reducing obesity levels in Australia. I wish James all the best in these important endeavours…
 
With kind regards
 
Craig Bennett
Chief Executive Officer
 
We support, empower and campaign for all Victorians affected by, or at risk of, diabetes.