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Feature Investigation

Questions over future of global diabetes group as founding members resign

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 05 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l995

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  1. Melanie Newman, freelance journalist, London, UK
  1. melanienewman999{at}

While the numbers of people with diabetes worldwide soar, the organisation at the forefront of the global fight against the disease is tearing itself apart. Melanie Newman investigates

For almost 70 years, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has led global efforts to combat diabetes. But its work has been so seriously undermined by internal conflict and the resignation of four founding members that its supporters are now questioning whether the organisation will survive.

An umbrella organisation of more than 200 diabetes associations from some 160 countries, IDF’s activities have ranged from lobbying the United Nations to initiatives such as Life for a Child, which helps children with diabetes in lower income countries to access treatment. Raising sufficient funds has been a challenge, and the institution has been dogged by accusations of cosiness with the drug industry.1

Now, after conversations with dozens of people from inside and outside the IDF and having seen some of the relevant documents, The BMJ can reveal widespread disquiet about the organisation’s governance under current president, Nam Cho (from Korea), and his predecessor, Shaukat Sadikot (from India). Both men have made or tried to make highly contentious changes to IDF activities, programmes, and staffing since 2016. In the past few years, national diabetes associations from the UK, France, Netherlands, and Denmark have all cut ties with the federation. The German association is monitoring the situation “very closely.”

Mostly recently, the leadership has attempted to remove elected board members—including Cho’s planned successor, Andrew Boulton, professor of medicine at Manchester University—and to take control of Life for a Child away from its longstanding operator and funder, Diabetes New South Wales. Other controversial changes include the federation’s withdrawal from the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance, a high level lobbying organisation founded by Ann Keeling, a former IDF chief executive.

Critics …

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