Larry Distiller: COVID-19 is shaking up diabetes education

For the first time in 22 years and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual forum of the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (South Africa) will be online. To bring knowledge and discussions to hundreds of healthcare professionals from across Africa, the CDE is adopting a new format, adapted to COVID-19 restrictions. Dr Larry Distiller, the founder of the centre, talks about the challenges and opportunities brought about by the pandemic, and reviews the programme of the event with us.

What is the CDE Forum?

The CDE was started 26 years ago. Within a short period of time, as we grew and developed centres around the country, we became aware that our doctors needed regular updates on what is new in diabetes. Four years after the creation of CDE, the forum was launched. It was initially designed as the annual meeting of all our centres’ professionals, but we have progressively opened it to all healthcare professionals with an interest and basic understanding of diabetes. With over 600 participants annually, it is now the largest diabetes meeting in Sub-Saharan Africa.

How is the forum different from other events?

It’s called a forum not a conference, because we use it as a networking and exchange platform. All the healthcare professionals from our centres talk among themselves, discuss aspects of diabetes, talk to the experts, socialise together. They have a great time for a weekend and learn in the same process.

What makes the forum unique are two things: we have lectures and discussions on topics of interest. We review topics with experts in the field to teach people what’s new. The second thing that is unique about it is that we’ve always believed -in line with the ethos of the CDE- that everybody is equal. All healthcare professionals are invited to take part: endocrinologists, specialists, GPs, nurse educators, dieticians, pharmacists, podiatrists all come to this meeting and interchange views to learn from each other.

What has COVID-19 changed?

This year is a bit special because of COVID restrictions. We’ve gone virtual, not in the way that people expect, not with webinars. We’re using gaming and new technology for a virtual reality experience. There will be a panel of experts in a studio, talks, discussions, questions will be done live. There will be time between talks to visit virtual pods with industry partners and others who are interested in teaching you and showing you what’s new, and you will have the possibility to meet with reps. Something very new, very exciting and very different.

In terms of the programme, the focus this year will be on lifestyle, patient education and control rather than the pharmacological treatment of the condition. We know that for diabetologists and healthcare professionals working with people with diabetes, the important thing is to keep patient’s blood glucose well controlled and follow social distancing and personal hygiene rules. The aspect of COVID we want to address in the forum is: what happens to education during the pandemic? Educating our patients, educating our colleagues.

Professor Davies from the University of South Wales, will be covering diabetes education specifically, but to some extend the forum itself is an exercise in education and upskilling during the pandemic. COVID-19 is shaking up education and the CDE wants to be at the forefront of innovation to continue delivering on its mission.

That’s why we will hear from Dr Stephen Cooke, a consultant ophthalmologist, on how artificial intelligence can help with eye screening when access to specialists is limited, because of numbers or because of social distancing.

We will also hear from Prof. Richard Holt, editor of Diabetic Medicine Journal, one of the leading diabetes-related journals in the world. One of his major interests is mental health and diabetes, which with COVID-19 has become even more relevant.

What other aspects will the forum cover?

The programme covers topics that we all need to learn about: diet and weight loss which are central for diabetes medical professionals, not just of interest to dieticians. We try and incorporate all of our specialities under one roof to teach each other. Dr Hennie Nortje will make the case that exercise can be an alternative form of treatment for patients.

Among the most topical issues that we will discuss are guidelines: Prof. Joel Dave, Professor of Endocrinology at University of Cape Town, will look at the guidelines published by EASD and ADA, covering a range of new drugs as first and second line. They’re not affordable in Africa and so the question of how we should adapt them for usage in Africa is vital.

Larry Distiller: COVID-19 is shaking up diabetes education

For the first time in 22 years, the CDE annual forum will be run online, due to COVID-19.

Who should be attending the forum?

You don’t have to belong to CDE to attend the event. Anybody who has an interest in diabetes and has got a basic knowledge of diabetes will find a wealth of information and insights from the forum. This year we have partnered with the IPA foundation of South Africa, a group of more than 2,000 general practitioners, to bring their perspective into the discussion.

All you need to attend is an internet connection. You don’t have to travel to Johannesburg. A lot of our colleagues from Africa who have done their 5-day course and are now doing their foundation course would love to come to our forum because they caught the vibe of the CDE in their 5-day course and say: ‘we want more’. But to travel to Johannesburg with airfares and accommodation at this time may be difficult for many. This year, all they have to do is go online, click and log on. They can attend the forum from the comfort of their home.

The CDE is a network of over 200 centres of excellence in South Africa providing integrated, multidisciplinary care to people with diabetes, managed by certified healthcare professionals upskilled in diabetes management. Headquartered in Johannesburg, the CDE also delivers diabetes training to healthcare professionals from across Africa and has recently released an online foundation diabetes course. The CDE Digital Forum will take place from 13-15 November 2020. To read more about the CDE model, click here

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