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I'm not falling for Turnbull's diabetes bribe

  • 24 June 2016


Last month, Malcolm Turnbull tried to buy my vote.

The Prime Minister, facing his first election as leader of the Coalition, announced that, if reelected, his party would spend $54 million on continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) for up to 4000 Type 1 diabetics under the age of 21.

It was a rich, impressive promise, one that sounded obscure to most of his constituency but which was a lightning rod for those to whom it pertained: the children and small number of adults diagnosed each year with Type 1 diabetes (the fastest growing chronic disease among children in Australia), and their parents, who live in mortal fear that their offsprings' blood glucose levels will drop so low overnight that they will fall into a coma and die.

Type 1 diabetics — not to be confused with the far more prevalent sufferers of Type 2 diabetes — possess no insulin-producing cells in their pancreas. These islets are killed off during a random, auto-immune response which usually occurs in childhood.

Diabetics must test their blood regularly with finger pricks, and inject themselves with insulin around four times a day for the rest of their lives. Every time they eat food containing carbohydrates — bread, fruit, milk, certain high-sugar vegetables — they must calculate the carbohydrate content and determine how many units of insulin to administer so that the glucose can be catalysed, admitted into the body's cells and converted into energy.

The lifelong challenge for Type 1 diabetics lies in maintaining consistent glucose levels: too much glucose and nerve damage will occur, potentially leading to blindness, kidney disease and gangrene in the extremities; too little and they will suffer hypoglycaemia, which can lead to coma and death.

Until now, CGMs have been exempt from the Medicare rebate scheme. Tiny though they are, they cost thousands of dollars a year to operate.

The device's sensor is attached via a thin cannula through the skin on the diabetic's torso, and sends real-time glucose levels readings to their mobile phones via Bluetooth. This not only alerts them to dangerously high or low readings, but also reduces the need for finger pricks, allows for more accurate insulin administration and helps to stabilise glucose levels, thus reducing the likelihood of complications (and cost to the health system) later in life.


"It's a cruel and manipulative joke, to offer parents a safeguard for their children (and only a limited number of them, at that) in return for