The road less travelled— Charlie Hunt’s life with diabetes 12 May 2021 Charlie Hunt’s life and career is an exercise in creative solutions. An Associate Professor in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at Melbourne’s RMIT and Senior Fellow at the United Nations University’s Centre for Policy Research in New York, Charlie’s work in international relations and UN peace operations has taken him all over the world, with particular focus on the African continent. From living in Ghana, to visiting displacement camps in the Congo, Charlie has undertaken plenty of travel off the beaten track, and always with his perfectly cooled insulin in tow. His story with diabetes goes back further, however, to his childhood in the United Kingdom. Charlie was diagnosed with type one diabetes as a teenager. Exhibiting the symptoms of dramatic weight loss and insatiable thirst, he recalls a story from just before his diagnosis. ‘I think it was around Christmas time, and I was locked out of my house, waiting for my parents to come home, and there were these pints of milk at the doorstep, and I drank two of them because I was clearly so hyperglycaemic at the time.’ Nowadays, his diabetes management plan includes continuous blood-monitoring glucose systems, which he describes as a ‘game changer’, and an approach to his work that he says is influenced by his diabetes. ‘My diabetes definitely has influenced the way I think about my work. My realisation at some point after my diagnosis, was that it was purely by accident that someone of my position could get that level of support, as opposed to someone in say South Sudan, who would almost certainly die. ‘And that’s not one hundred years ago, before insulin was manufactured, but today. I think the idea of that searing inequality certainly shaped my desire to work in a space where there was an attempt to address those inequalities.’ Charlie’s work has certainly reflected this desire to address inequalities, from his consultancy work with the UN and multiple non-government organisations (NGO), to his numerous publications. But being able to undertake the travel needed to perform these roles is not so simple. First, there are some things to address before he has even left. ‘When I go to do field research, I have to convince my employer that I’m not a bigger liability, and that they should cover me on their insurance policy. There are genuine risks of being in a space like that, and I am seen as a bigger liability.’ Though Charlie says that he always tries to be inventive when overcoming the challenges presented to him, he admits that the extra legwork can affect him. ‘There’s always someone I have to convince. It’s a bit of a burden, the pressure of needing the data to back it up.’ Once Charlie has been okayed to travel, he then finds himself in a new setting where his medication must be stored appropriately. ‘Travelling with diabetes is a massive challenge, I underestimate it sometimes,’ he says. ‘Insulin is actually quite difficult to travel with, keeping it cold or stable is the biggest challenge I’ve had. When I lived in Ghana, I had pretty limited accommodation, we didn’t have consistent electricity. ‘So the challenge is then, how do you get a hold of the stuff, and how do you maintain it in a condition where it’s going to work.’ Alright, so you’ve convinced your employer to let you go overseas, to a place with limited electricity. You’re keeping your insulin cold with snap freeze packs, but now you need to go out on the road, or maybe take a UN helicopter somewhere. What about food? Charlie has some creative solutions. ‘When you don’t know where the next opportunity to buy food is, you have to come up with creative ways of dealing with it. I’m often using terrible French to explain why I’ve got a bag full of biscuits. ‘I’ve done quite a bit of work where I’d be sat there in the back of the car, wearing these serious cargo shorts with all the pockets loaded up with granola bars and insulin, because carjacking is pretty common, and the first thing they’re going to do is take your bag.’ Beyond the potentially comedic nature of explaining away muesli bars, Charlie recognises the risk of having his medication taken away in more serious scenarios. ‘Getting through borders is a bit more difficult, you know, with a bag of hypodermic needles, or various drugs, and odd-looking devices, it certainly draws attention. I’ve had to navigate those things.’ Back at home in Australia, Charlie remains conscious that his life as a person with diabetes benefits greatly from the Australian healthcare system, but still believes there is a way to go. ‘There’s a lot to be impressed about with the Australian healthcare system and diabetes but embracing the new developments and making it available to people as quickly as possible is probably still a bit of a challenge. ‘You need to give diabetics agency, if you give them the tools, then that’s the most effective way of improving their health.’ Charlie has previously participated in Diabetes Australia panel talks and looks forward to continuing his advocacy in the area. You can find more info on Charlie here.