Daniel Muñoz, a volunteer at El Centro Vivir con Diabetes (CVCD), a Direct Relief partner clinic in Bolivia, visited headquarters yesterday to present updates on the organization’s work as the only nonprofit in Bolivia providing comprehensive care to people with diabetes.
Diabetes is growing rapidly in South and Central America, where more than 26 million people live with the disease. Bolivia is no exception.
In Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third-largest city where CVCD’s headquarters are located, an estimated 10 percent of adults have diabetes. CVCD, a recognized leader in diabetes education, detection and treatment, has trained hundreds of diabetes educators, and identified thousands of diabetes sufferers and referred them for treatment. Since its foundation in 2000, CVCD has serviced more than 100,000 people who make up this growing population.
Diabetes in Latin America is a severe condition, as treatment is expensive and health coverage lacking. According to Muñoz, in Bolivia “if you have diabetes, you’re on your own.” Thus, many diabetes patients reach advanced stages of the disease and suffer from related health conditions, including blindness and poor circulation.
CVCD’s mission is to provide education, supplies and services to the Bolivian people, regardless of their financial situation. “We work with really poor people,” said Muñoz. “It’s very eye-opening to hear stories of these people with diabetes.”
One of the first obstacles confronting people with diabetes in Bolivia is the social stigma. Many Bolivians don’t realize diabetes is not contagious, and because of this misconception, those with diabetes often feel ostracized from their community, said Muñoz. CVCD runs a psychology clinic to service patients with psychological needs, and also tries to correct this stigma with their education efforts.
Direct Relief has been a long-time supporter of CVCD, sending the first shipments of medical equipment in 2002. “We still use that furniture today,” said Muñoz. CVCD has seen much growth since then, recently moving to new facilities in Cochabamba, with financial help from the Abbott Fund and Direct Relief and donated products from Abbott. The new buildings include not only medical treatment facilities, a pharmacy, and education conference rooms, but also a nearby health food restaurant where patients can improve their diet.
“We want to be a comprehensive service to people with diabetes, and offer as much as we can,” said Muñoz. After the move to the new facilities, the number of people visiting the clinic and buying supplies more than doubled. “These numbers prove we needed new buildings,” he said. “Now we can provide many more services and help more people.”
Another recent development in CVCD comes in the information technology (IT) department, where Muñoz specializes. The organization decided to use iPads to improve accuracy and access of patient data.
“We used to run all patient data on paper,” said Muñoz. This proved difficult when extracting statistical information. “We realized we should find a way to digitize everything, and decided on the iPad,” he said. Now, all nurses and doctors at CVCD carry iPads and are able to use a specially-designed app (created by Muñoz himself), to record patient data. Social workers also bring iPads on home visits to patients, allowing the geomapping system to record and analyze trends in diabetes rates and location. The possibilities of the system mean CVCD can reach more people, especially in rural places, where access is most limited.
CVCD’s success as a diabetes nonprofit is becoming more well-known in the region, as shown by a recent training visit to Venezuela. A Venezuelan diabetes nonprofit requested CVCD staff to come and do training on successful diabetes education. “I see this as an important activity because people not from Bolivia are starting to recognize CVCD,” said Muñoz.
He is hopeful that sometime in the future CVCD can offer this diabetes education training online to a wider audience and become a hub for the entire Latin American region. With help from continued support and technological improvements (like Muñoz’s iPad app), the organization can continue to service people living with diabetes in Bolivia.