PDGN is managed by a group of elected Officers operating under a constitution approved by its members. The President and Vice-Presidents must all be serving representatives. The Co-Chairs can be former or existing representatives.
They say that nature abhors a vacuum and so the idea of a global network of Parliamentarians championing diabetes within their legislatures came about as a consequence of separate developments over a number of years that highlighted the lack of such an organisation.
In the UK Michael, now Sir Michael, Hirst had been a Member of the British Parliament where he had almost single-handedly championed the cause of diabetes, and successfully raised its profile. After Parliament Michael devoted much of his time to assisting the case for prevention, early diagnosis and the best treatments through Diabetes UK (originally known as the British Diabetic Association), and later as a Board member, and ultimately President, of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).
Through his advocacy work he met a young Australian Senator, Guy Barnett at the Paris World Diabetes Congress in 2003. Guy, like Micky, had noticed there was a missing link in the diabetes framework of pharmaceutical companies, patient groups, medical practitioners and international political bodies. That link was the group of people who could put items on national and international government agendas, raise issues in the media, change budget lines and public policies, and make a real beneficial impact on the lives of people with the condition and their families.
Around the same time in the UK Parliament that Sir Michael had left in 1987, an All Party Parliamentary Group for diabetes had formed. Under the chairmanship of Adrian Sanders MP from 1998 to 2015 it became one of the most effective groups in Parliament putting diabetes on the agenda, changing employment law, the availability of medicines and equipment, and challenging perceptions of what people with diabetes can or cannot do.
Adrian was aware that with devolved Parliaments there was a need to coordinate actions across the UK and Scottish Parliaments together with the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, or the efforts of advocates for diabetes would be diluted.
Thanks to the support of Diabetes UK where Sir Michael Hirst was then Chairman of the Board of Trustees, a meeting was sponsored and held in the House of Lords in November 2003. This is where Adrian and Sir Michael first met and where elected representatives from across a number of chambers considered coordinated action and campaigns.
In March 2007 Adrian was invited to the Novo Nordisk Global Changing Diabetes Leadership Forum, where he heard an impassioned speech by an Australian parliamentarian, Guy Barnett, arguing for Governments to take diabetes more seriously. Former President Bill Clinton gave a keynote speech at the event about change and how to make it happen. He spoke of the tipping point that needed to be reached to bring about change. In discussions with other elected representatives at the event the germs of an idea, implanted by Guy Barnett and already understood by Sir Michael, was awaiting ignition - a global network of champions for diabetes who would reach that tipping point.
Meanwhile, Sir Michael Hirst has been elected Vice President of IDF, serving in that position until he was elected President-Elect in 2009. He took up office as President at the end of 2012, serving until December 2015.
Within IDF Sir Michael wanted to raise the importance of advocacy, not least to coordinate better and increase the effectiveness of all the groups with an interest in diabetes; from Governments to patients, health professionals to employers, NGOs to the manufacturers of drugs and technical equipment.
With Guy Barnett and Adrian Sanders he worked up the idea of a forum to be held in advance of the IDF Global Congress. This was 2011 and the next Congress was due to be held in Melbourne at the beginning of December 2013. Thanks to Guy’s contacts in his home country and personal determination to put the missing link in place, a Forum was held and attended by over 50 parliamentarians nominated by their national diabetes association for their advocacy.
With support from Diabetes Australia, the Federal government and the Victorian government alongside commercial sponsors the forum heard reports from the countries of the attendees, determined to create an on-going network and concluded the weekend event with the signing of the Melbourne Declaration.
This committed our members to work in cross-party groups within Parliaments advocating for diabetes and since the forum such groups have been established across the globe while motions and debates have been instigated in parliaments as far apart and diverse as Bolivia and Malta, Australia and Russia, Scotland and Kenya.
This was followed two years later at the second forum in Vancouver where members again reported on actions and challenges from their home countries, set about formalising the structure of the network and its organisation, and agreed the Vancouver Proclamation that committed members to encouraging their governments to support international actions on diabetes.
Membership continues to grow but the task ahead is growing too and we need to increase our influence within the decision-making bodies of countries and cross-national organisations with an interest in healthcare.
Our primary objective remains to help prevent diabetes, encourage early diagnosis of diabetes and improve the treatment of diabetes in every part of the world.
To that end we need to be well-informed about the challenges and how they are being met and we need to communicate and swap ideas and best practice. Together we need to grow into a force that reaches that tipping point where resources devoted to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes are not questioned. Where people with the condition can access the treatment they need. Where people are not-discriminated against in work or their community because of ignorance and misunderstanding.
Our story has really only just begun.