Q&A with Chris Lee from Diabetes Australia
Thanks for taking the time for have a chat with us Chris. Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself and your role at Diabetes Australia?
Thank you for the opportunity to have a chat. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge all traditional custodians on the lands on which we work, live and play and to pay my deepest respects to our Elders past, present and emerging.
I was appointed to the position of Manager, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement at Diabetes Australia in February 2019. Prior to this role I worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcasting and communications and also the criminal justice system.
Chris Lee, Manager of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement at Diabetes Australia presenting at the 2019 Close the Gap for Vision by 2020 National Conference in Alice Springs, NT.
My diabetes journey started with my diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in 2014. I was working in the criminal justice system at the time and like most newly diagnosed people, I was in a bit of shock and disbelief as I had no physical symptoms. At that stage I didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to question my diagnosis, let alone the cause, care and management necessary to successfully manage my condition. I remember I was handed a bundle of pamphlets and brochures on diabetes and encouraged to join the various diabetes organisations that exist across the country. I sat and read through the information and soon realised that none of it made any sense to my lived experience as an Aboriginal person. The language used, whilst being reasonably plain English, was written from a clinical perspective and whilst it was medically correct, it didn’t provide me with the information I needed about my condition. I tried several Aboriginal medical services to no avail - then I turned to the internet. Dr. Google, YouTube and social media provide platforms for all types of misinformation and they just confused me further.
As a husband and father of four daughters I knew I had to understand my condition so I could be around for my family. My journey to discover more about my condition was fraught with obstacles until I met some Aboriginal people who were working in the diabetes sector. I was able to have a quiet yarn with them and things started to make sense. I now had the words and confidence to question health professionals and slowly started to discover how to better manage my condition.
My role at Diabetes Australia is provide an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural lens on our range of projects, resources and policies which seek to reduce the terrible burden and impact of diabetes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. I provide the organisation with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective and provide an interface between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, cultures and communities and Diabetes Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suffer some of the worst rates of diabetes and associated chronic diseases in the world and it’s our role to educate and encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with these conditions to engage with the medical profession to develop appropriate care and management systems.
A video created as a quick guide to the benefits of the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS).
What was the driver behind the development of the new ‘First Nations Storytelling’ artwork?
An obvious missing piece to our engagement and education strategies at Diabetes Australia was the absence of a design or brand to engage and attract the interest of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cultures are a visual storytelling culture and we needed to commission a design which we could use to ‘market’ ourselves in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. We needed a design which told the story of diabetes in a way that was understandable by our mob. We went through an extensive artist selection and shortlisting process which included ensuring all State and Territory Engagement staff had the chance to have input into the final design. The final shortlist was then presented to the CEO of Diabetes Australia, who in consultation with myself and others, chose the fantastic design submitted by Keisha Leon, a proud Waanyi–Kalkadoon woman and graphic designer based in Brisbane.
Aboriginal graphic designer and artist Keisha Leon.
Keisha’s artwork considers the impact of diabetes on communities and the barriers that make it difficult for people to accessing health care. The artwork depicts the positive journey of increased awareness, connection and support First Nation’s people can take towards a healthier future.
“I hope the artwork will take people on a journey. By yarning about health, we can grow our connections and work towards healthier communities for future generations” says Keisha. “I do come from a large family that unfortunately suffers from a lot of the health problems that have a bigger impact on Aboriginal people – including diabetes. I do value the work Diabetes Australia is doing to close that gap and break down the myths and fears around diabetes.
Diabetes Australia’s new ‘First Nations Storytelling’ artwork created by Aboriginal graphic designer and artist Keisha Leon.
The blue line running through the artwork symbolises the health pathway. It represents different parts of a health journey and positive pathway.
What impact are you hoping the new artwork will have for First Nations people living with diabetes?
If we are going to have any success in reducing the crisis rates of diabetes in our communities, we need to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities to provide support and education that is culturally appropriate, accessible and meaningful. We are very proud to have worked with Keisha and have artwork that we can now use to communicate and connect in a more powerful way. We will use the artwork on our resources, marketing, social media and other platforms to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. We want people to see the design and know the story of diabetes and want to come over to have a yarn.
National Diabetes Week is coming up. Can you tell us about this year’s Diabetes Australia National Diabetes Week campaign ‘Heads Up’?
Diabetes Australia is looking at a range of strategies and the Heads-Up campaign is looking at the very real impact of mental health issues which are a direct result of isolation. In June this year the University of WA released the report ‘A National COVID-19 Pandemic Issues Paper on Mental Health and Wellbeing for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ which highlights the incredible impact COVID-19 is having on the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with diabetes and associated chronic conditions are further impacted by mental health issues and Diabetes Australia wants to engage and encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to reach out. Look after their mental health as well as the other conditions from which they suffer.
The poster for National Diabetes Week 2020 ‘Heads Up’ campaign.
Unfortunately, it’s a massive task and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t have the capacity to access support services, but through strong partnerships with the other agencies and organisations we aim to reach as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities as possible.
Accessing health services has been challenging for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you have any advice for First Nations people in the prevention and management of diabetes during this time?
Access your local medical service can be difficult at the best of times, but particularly difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governments movement restrictions, social isolation policies and general recognition that Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people are an at-risk population has stopped many people from maintaining contact with their local health care professionals. As a result of this, many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes stopped their care and maintenance schedules for a range of factors including fear of the virus, access issues, supply problems and other competing priorities, which was highlighted by the panic buying during the pandemic.
A graphic developed by Diabetes Australia to promote the importance of good hygiene practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of the peak Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health organisations as well as State and Territory health bodies, Land Councils and other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander stakeholder groups did a fantastic job of immediately raising awareness of COVID-19 amongst Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities which resulted in border closures, specific isolation measures and no deaths. However, data from mainstream medical organisations suggested that people with diabetes, and associated comorbidities, were at greater risk of serious harm from the virus and many adopted the social isolation procedures to the detriment of their diabetes care and management plans.
Diabetes Australia has approval to commence a specific Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander diabetes messaging campaign in a post COVID-19 environment encouraging Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to re-engage with their local health care professionals to ‘Get back on track” with managing their diabetes and associated chronic conditions. The campaign will be developed in line with the Diabetes Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander protocol guide which outlines appropriate and respectful approaches for engaging with First Nations people. As part of the campaign development and execution, Diabetes Australia will engage honestly and meaningfully with First Nations people, communities and organisations to support this culturally appropriate initiative. Preliminary community and sector engagement has already been undertaken to ensure the proposed campaign approach is culturally appropriate.
The campaign will be practical, culturally appropriate and engaging, and utilise artwork developed by a First Nations artist with content focussing around the theme of a ‘journey’ back to health. The notion of journey is significant in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While it reflects a spiritual connectedness to the land, it also symbolizes a transformation or passage from one place or ‘state’ to another. Focusing campaign messaging around the symbolism of ‘journey’ will provide a platform to encourage and motivate people to re-engage with their diabetes care and management – to move from a state of disengagement to re-engaging with their diabetes and their health.
COVID-19 has changed the world. We’ve all been keeping our distance. We’ve all got a lot on our mind and are focused on staying safe. But now it’s time to get back on track with our diabetes.
The five steps to get back on track:
- Keep taking all your diabetes and other medicines
- Talk to your doctor about how you are managing your blood glucose
- Have a flu shot
- If you notice that something has changed with your health - a sore on your foot or patchy vision - get down to the clinic straight away
- And remember … healthy spirit, healthy mind, healthy body
These five steps will be positioned as part of the ‘journey’ back to good health and getting “back on track”.
Chris, thank you for your time for sharing these important messages.
For more information about Diabetes Australia, head to their website.