Two academics from the University of Birmingham, Dr Ami Benerjee and Dr Paramjit Gill, as part of the South Asian Health Foundation (SAHF), have won the BMJ Diabetes Team of the Year Award for improving awareness of diabetes among the South Asian community. 

The BMJ Diabetes Team Award recognises an innovative project that has measurably improved care in diabetes through better engagement with patients and carers. 

Dr Kiran Patel, who chairs the South Asian Health Foundation, commented “One group that has proved resistant to open discussion of medical issues is the South Asian community.” He traces this reluctance to the culture of the sub-continent, where to admit to health problems was to risk marital capital. “We’ve struggled with community engagement” he admits. The answer came in asking local communities to arrange meetings themselves, outside health premises and in halls, temples and gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship). A total of 11 events were held and covered broad-brush discussions about diabetes, the services available, and self-management. “We also did some myth-busting. For example, there’s a belief that if you start taking insulin to control diabetes, you’re going to die within 12 months. We explained that you’re not.” 

Outcomes from the programme, funded by an educational grant from Novo Nordisk, are qualitative rather than quantitative, but he is pleased to have found a formula that works in reaching a community with a high diabetes risk but reluctance to talk about it. 

In early 2014, the South Asian Health Foundation extended its South Asian Community Health Education and Empowerment (SACHE) programme to include South Asians diagnosed with diabetes.

This impressive project targeted a high risk population in 7 major cities in the UK and is breaking down cultural barriers by taking important diabetes education out into the communities – to schools, community centres and places of worship, embedding health ambassadors in schools and recruiting local pharmacists as champions. They are achieving powerful attitudinal changes in areas of significant educational need. It is only fitting that the phonetic translation of SACHE in Hindi is “trust”.