September 14, 2022

Two friends intervene to turn around a humanitarian crisis

Two friends founded the charity in 2015 after realising the silent suffering of people in Southeast Asia. Many people with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) in the region had no or very limited access to life-saving treatment and were not surviving. The organisation began supporting 15 young people in Myanmar and has since expanded to now have nearly 600 in their care across Southeast Asia.

Six years ago, Charles Toomey was speaking to a doctor in Myanmar when he was told something unbelievable: โ€œThere is no type 1 diabetes in this country.โ€

That conversation led Toomey to dig deeper. He eventually found a pediatric hospital in the capital of Yangon, where records uncovered just 15 people currently living with the condition. Toomey reached a grim conclusion: There were only a handful of people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) still alive in Myanmar, a nation with a population of over 50 million.

The situation in the Southeast Asian country was so dire that patients hardly even had a chance to get diagnosed. Even those who did manage to get a diagnosis had a slim chance of survival, as there was no government support for treatment and management.

Toomey decided to do something about it. Together with a friend, he founded a charity called Action4Diabetes (A4D).

“I had a long-term friendship with Jerry Gore, who lived with type 1 diabetes. He was a mountaineer who had summitted some of the toughest peaks in the world. So he had not only just survived but accomplished some incredible feats of human endeavor. I was completely shocked to learn that there was hardly anyone with the same condition in Myanmar who was even alive…I knew it was a complete travesty that this was being allowed to happen in this modern age.”

Charles Toomey, co-founder Action4Diabetes

In a relatively short amount of time, Action4Diabetes has been able to support hundreds of disadvantaged children living with T1D across Myanmar.

Toomey and Gore began their work by purchasing insulin and testing equipment for the childrenโ€™s hospital in Yangon, urging doctors to use them. But things quickly snowballed for the organization as the pair discovered that other Southeast Asian countries were in the same situation as Myanmar. To expand their reach, they began building partnerships with hospitals and clinics across the region that had the capacity to support children with T1D.

After speaking to many doctors and hospitals in the region, we knew they could articulate the problem which was essentially that they didnโ€™t have educational materials, or the medical supplies to support T1D. So our mission was to help them do the jobs they wanted to do.

Jerry Gore, co-founder Action4Diabetes

Action4Diabetes works by purchasing high-quality medical supplies (e.g., insulin and blood-glucose testing equipment) directly from reputable suppliers, then providing those directlyโ€”and free of chargeโ€”to patients. To learn more about the prevalence of T1D in the region they have also prioritized data collection from healthcare centers. Proactive fundraising allows the organization to continue its vital work.

Action4Diabetes now supports over 650 disadvantaged children living with T1D across Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The organization partners with over 25 local hospitals to deliver insulin, blood-glucose testing, HbA1c tests and other lifesaving medical support across Southeast Asia. They plan to expand their reach to Indonesia and the Philippines between 2023-2024.