Cape Town – Thomas Wridgeway, 11, is like most Grade 5 learners. He loves sport, particularly running, cricket and hockey.
For the past eight years he has had type 1 diabetes, a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition. It cannot be cured and requires 24/7 management.
But the latest Medtronic insulin pump, called the minimed 670g, is streamlining diabetes management, and lessening the burden on families trying to cope with the ups and downs of type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes can wreak havoc on the lives of those trying to manage it. Diabetics must inject synthetic insulin or wear an insulin pump that releases insulin into their tissue to survive.
Parents of type 1 diabetics typically wake up to check their child’s sugar levels at 2am, but with the introduction of continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGM) and insulin pumps, technology is changing lives for diabetics and their families.
CGM devices measure blood sugar levels every few minutes via a tiny sensor inserted under the skin and can send the results wirelessly to a pump.
The minimed 670g, which was developed in America, became available to South Africans earlier this month and Wridgeway was the first child in the country to get one.
His mother, Michelle, says it has changed their lives.
“When your child’s health lies in your hands, it creates a lot of stress,” she says.
“But going from injections to an insulin pump was life-changing for us because it gave Thomas control he needs. He was needle-phobic and hated injections.
“For me, him going on to minimed 670g, the greatest impact has been for the nights, just having great control overnight, a lot better than we got before.
"And we get more sleep, so we are less grumpy!”
In South Africa, the pump does not come cheap, however, at a cost of R56000.
Top options in medical aid schemes usually cover some of that cost, but Michelle says the purchase still takes its toll financially.
“Fortunately, in South Africa diabetes is a prescribed minimum benefits condition for medical aid members so very basic therapy is covered in the state or any basic hospital plan.
“If you want any of the newer technologies you have to pay out of pocket, and that can become costly.”
The pump automatically adjusts the amount of insulin it gives you. A CGM sends your blood sugar levels to the pump every five minutes. The pump then reacts by increasing or lowering the amount of insulin it delivers.
Paediatric endocronologist Dr Danelle van der Merwe says type 1 diabetes is becoming more prevalent, particularly in the 2-to-5-year-old age group and when children hit puberty, but no statistics are available in South Africa.
“Hopefully, we can get that in the future where we can log the kids to see the increase. We are busy building a record book. They are trying to do that in the state hospitals, but it still needs to be linked to private patients.”
Van der Merwe says parents who can afford the latest technologies usually have better control of their child’s diabetes.
“The more finances parents can put in, the better control for the children as they can get monitors. People in lower income brackets and people who haven’t got medical aids, they can’t go on to sensors and the latest technology. They need to rely on finger-pricking and the older methods.
“I think the minimed 670g is fantastic. It’s the closest to a closed loop system that we can get and I think we are going to see vast improvements in type 1 diabetes management, particularly in children.”
Dr Lindsey Levin says it will allow children more freedom.
“Children, when they are in school especially, and for mothers stressing, not knowing what’s going on when they are not with their kids, worrying about lows, worrying about highs.
“I think that being taken care of by auto adjustments of the basal rate will be a big relief for the whole family and will allow the kids to do the things they want to be doing instead of thinking what their blood sugar is all the time.”
African News Agency