Diabetes in Australia

In between Australia’s exotic wildlife and unique landscapes, we were also eager to learn about the Australian health care system and how it serves its diabetic community. Our itinerary kept us moving quickly across the continent but we were able to get in touch via email with the Diabetes Victoria branch and have an informative afternoon coffee chat with the team at Diabetes WA (Western Australia).

Approximately 1.2 million Australian adults have diabetes, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and the numbers continue to rise. Diabetes Australia reports that 280 Australians develop diabetes every day, or in other words, someone is diagnosed at a rate of every five minutes. If we also take into account the growing number of people with silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, it’s clear that it is a major health issue for the country.

Fortunately, access to resources is plentiful. Australians benefit from a public health care system that provides fully subsidized care (essential medicine and diabetes care related products) for people living with diabetes. They also have access to numerous diabetes support organizations across the country. Recently, the federal government has even approved a $54 million Continuous Glucose Monitor subsidy for children and young people under 21 who live with diabetes type 1 as well.

We have included some of the observations of both the Diabetes WA and Victoria branches on living with diabetes in Australia below. Even though the services offered at the various diabetic organizations across Australia are usually similar in nature, each branch also has its own voice and community to serve. Remember, Australia is a big place.

And because Australia is a big place, we didn’t have time to cover it all. We left feeling the need to investigate the diabetes situation in the indigenous Aboriginal communities and the history of scuba diving restrictions for type 1 diabetics, which used to be common in Australia, but have since been lifted. We just didn’t have enough time and resources, but we’re totally OK with having an excuse to return someday!

*Keep in mind that we were only able to connect with Diabetes Victoria via email, so that’s why their answers are a bit shorter and more formal in tone.

Who are you and what is your organizational mission?

Diabetes WA: Diabetes Western Australia is similar to most diabetes organizations. We are probably a little more heavily focused on people with type 2 diabetes just because the numbers are so much bigger. In Australia, the type 1 community is very much serviced by the tertiary hospitals. But everything we do is about the person with diabetes. We always ask ourselves, ‘How does this benefit someone with diabetes?’ and if it doesn’t benefit them, then we shouldn’t be doing it.

Diabetes Victoria: Our mission is to support, empower and campaign for all Victorians affected by diabetes.

How do you help people with diabetes?

 Diabetes WA: Primarily through workshops and education, service and support. We have advice and information lines that are open to people with and without diabetes, teachers, anyone in the community who wants to know more about diabetes. Some people want to know a lot, some people only want some basic information. It changes. We call it the diabetes journey and it could be from pre-diabetes to diagnosis and hopefully not to the complication stage, but we are there for all of it.

Diabetes Victoria: Diabetes Victoria offers a full range of services to help the more than 310,000 Victorians currently living with diabetes. We provide services designed for people living with type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes, as well as their families and carers.

We regularly run workshops, webinars, courses and other educational sessions for the diabetes community. We fundraise to support vital diabetes research. The Diabetes Australia Research Program supports and develops outstanding diabetes research in Australia. In addition, we run diabetes camps for children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes, where they get to meet other children with type 1 diabetes.


Do you think the people of your country are well-informed about diabetes?

 Diabetes WA: Most people have been impacted by diabetes. If it’s not them, it’s a family member or someone they know. So they have a vague idea but until it actually physically happens to them, they are probably in that “I don’t really want to know” stage. People probably have the knowledge, but they’re not actively engaged.

Diabetes Victoria: Many Australians understand that diabetes is a condition, however understanding the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is still an ongoing issue. In addition to this, the causes of all types of diabetes are still widely misunderstood.  There are many pre-conceived ideas about diabetes, particularly the link to lifestyle choices for people living with type 2 diabetes. The associated stigma is something we try hard to quash with our messaging.

(The stigma surrounding type 2 diabetes is something that both Diabetes Victoria and Diabetes stressed as an important issue. Diabetes WA gave an example…)

“You might have seen some ads on Australian TV called the Live Lighter campaign. It’s a campaign about health and general well being but the message is if you don’t do these things, you could end up with diabetes. So when we ask people to talk to the media about their diabetes, they get a little defensive. They say, why would I do that when you’ve just splashed all over the news that I did this to myself? So that’s something we have to be very careful about, how we talk about type 2 diabetes.”

What specific resources do you offer for travelers?

 Diabetes WA: We do have a diabetes travel book and we have our member benefit partner that does supply that special insurance. Aside from that, probably not a lot. We could be doing more.

We do a lot of workshops in other areas like the workplace and specifically, up at the mine sites. Western Australia has a lot of mine sites and there are huge numbers of workers there with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. It’s a very sedentary occupation. They work long hours, sitting all day, the meals are really bad, and it’s stressful. So we go there and do education for those people too.

Now, if you are a foreigner visiting Australia, you wouldn’t have access to our health care. You’d have to pay out of pocket for your medicine, but it’s not prohibitively expensive. You would need to set up an appointment with a doctor to get a local prescription and then you could buy your supplies at the pharmacy.

Diabetes Victoria: We offer a number of resources for people living with diabetes to refer to when travelling, as well as invite people to write for us about their personal experiences.

Here are a few specific resources:


During our month in Australia, Damián was able to travel while managing his type 1 diabetes without any incident. Healthy food choices and reliable medical facilities are abundant in the coastal areas, but we did not travel into the outback.

We bought a small portable cooler to keep his insulin cold while on the road. Be aware that depending on the time of year that you travel, Australia can get very, very hot! We checked in advance with our hostel accommodations to make sure that adequate refrigeration was available. Obviously, it would be very rare to find accommodation without a refrigerator but by asking, we are sometimes able to secure a private arrangement instead of keeping the insulin in the communal fridge used by an entire hostel. This gives us better peace of mind.

In Geelong, we made the mistake of forgetting the Glucagon at the house of our Couchsurfing host. You can send the Glucagon needle and vial via domestic mail in Australia as long as it is properly encased. Our kind host posted the Glucagon to us in Perth with no problems. However, keep in mind that this kind of medication cannot be sent internationally.

If you need to buy insulin while in Australia, you will need to set up an appointment with a local doctor in order to get a prescription. As we explain in another post, make sure you bring the proper paperwork. If you have any doubts about how to go about this process, it’s always best to contact the nearest diabetes organization in the area where you are traveling and they will be able to assist you further.




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