Diabetes Care Close to the Heart

Diabetes Care Close to the Heart

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Ali Hassan works as medical representative for Novo Nordisk Iraq


Ali Hassan set a goal to establish a specialised diabetes centre in the city of Kirkuk in collaboration with the Iraqi Ministry of Health. A personal motivation and the need to ensure healthier lives for patients are key drivers for him but big challenges have arisen along the way.

Monday, November 9, 2015 - 9:45am

CAMPAIGN: The TBL Quarterly

CONTENT: Article

The city of Kirkuk is often referred to as the heart of Iraq. Not only does the area have the similar shape of a heart, it also boast a rich cultural history and was named ’capital of Iraqi culture’ by Iraq’s Ministry of Culture back in 2010.

The city was founded around 2000 BC and today, the estimated population of the Kirkuk governorate is around 1.4 million people. Demographically, it is an extremely diverse region with a mix of religions and ethnic groups.1

Because of its strategic location in the central Northern part of Iraq, Kirkuk has several times in history experienced clashes with different empires controlling the city at various times. The fact that Kirkuk is located on top of some of the country’s largest oil reserves also makes the city important from a political point of view. Earlier this year, Kirkuk once again turned into a battle ground when the threat from terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) suddenly came very close.2

Ali’s move

Ali Hassan is concerned with a different kind of fight which is how to make life better for people living with diabetes. He lives in Kirkuk and has worked for Novo Nordisk as a medical representative since 2013. And it is a very personal story that has made diabetes close to his heart.

”My father died from diabetes a little more than two years ago. In fact, he died from complications of living with diabetes for 20-25 years without getting the proper treatment. This is how my passion for diabetes care began and why I decided to join Novo Nordisk,” says Ali.

In January 2015, as part of an internal campaign called BANE3 Move, all employees in Novo Nordisk’s Iraqi affiliate were invited to identify their personal ‘move’ to support the company strategy. Here, Ali decided that his move should be to provide better treatment to the people with diabetes living in Kirkuk. ‘My move is to increase awareness about diabetes and work hard to develop a specialised diabetes clinic in Kirkuk,’ it says on a note that Ali carries with him.

Novo Nordisk has for several years provided insulin to Kirkuk, but Ali and his colleagues were aware that it takes more than medicine to provide better care to patients. With a specialised diabetes clinic, patients would not only get access to modern insulin, but also healthcare professionals with an expertise in diabetes that is normally unlikely to find at a general practitioner and the ability
to track patients in a systematic way so that their health could be monitored on a long-term basis.

This would be the first time that a specialised diabetes clinic would be established in the city of Kirkuk and Ali felt extremely motivated to carry out this work although he knew that there would be challenges ahead. However, the next couple of months turned out to be even more challenging than he had imagined.

Kirkuk under attack

For a long time, Kirkuk was one of the few notable cities – apart from the region of Kurdistan and its capital Erbil – in northern Iraq that hadn't fallen to ISIS. However, in January 2015, ISIS militants attacked Kirkuk which led to a period with fierce battles where Kurdish military forces and Iraqi government troops fought to defend the city against the terrorist group.

“Everything was changed due to the bad situation, even the boundaries of my city,” Ali says. The government was no longer in control of certain areas and it was less safe to travel around the city. This made it harder for Ali to carry out his normal work as a medical representative and made it more cumbersome to prepare for the diabetes clinic in collaboration with the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

However, he continued his work with support from his colleagues, his manager and the Novo Nordisk office in Baghdad. He spent considerable time in dialogue with the Ministry of Health and the Azadi General Hospital in Kirkuk where the diabetes clinic would be located.

Finally in July 2015, an agreement was made between Novo Nordisk and the Ministry to establish the clinic which was a major milestone for Ali. ”It has been a difficult situation, but I always say that if a person wants something, he should try to do it. And patients deserve that we do our best!”

Around the same time, Kirkuk was freed and its borders are now protected from ISIS. But although the city is now considered safe according to Ali, it is still under risk and fighting takes place in the areas surrounding the city.

Preparing for the opening

Although the fighting has died down for now and the agreement is in place, other bumps have also occurred on the way.

Several times during the summer of 2015, the government declared mandatory holidays because temperatures soared to above 50 degrees. High summer temperatures are normal in Iraq but widespread power and water cuts made everyday life complicated and progress slow.

But by the beginning of August, all the final steps for the diabetes clinic were in place. It was decided that staff from the hospital will be allocated to the diabetes clinic and Novo Nordisk will take care of further educating specialised doctors through Steno Diabetes Center4 through the STAR programme which is an international education programme for healthcare professionals working with diabetes in low- and medium-income countries. As part of the agreement, Novo Nordisk will also supply the clinic with affordable modern insulin.

And then it happened. On 14 August 2015, Ali’s dream became reality with the official opening of the diabetes clinic in Kirkuk. To begin with, Ali expects that the clinic will serve between 150 and 200 patients with type 1
and type 2 diabetes. Eventually, he also hopes to secure the sufficient resources to make a mobile vehicle with an examination room available to the clinic which can help raise awareness about diabetes and bring diabetes care to patients across the city.

“This is a great achievement for me,” says Ali. “It’s not just a job - it’s my passion, belief and future.”

Read more about what Novo Nordisk is doing to contribute to sustainable development in the most recent issue of TBL Quarterly: http://bit.ly/1gtgT29