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Asian American Diabetes Initiative Honored at the 2013 Unity Dinner

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On Tuesday, May 14th the Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) of the Joslin Diabetes Center was honored at the seventh annual Unity Dinner that was hosted by the Asian American Commission (AAC).

The AAC is dedicated to advocacy on behalf of Asian Americans throughout Massachusetts. The Commission aims to recognize the significant contributions of Asian Americans to the social, cultural, economic, and political life of the Commonwealth, and to identify and address the needs and challenges facing residents of Asian ancestry.

The Unity Dinner serves to honor the achievements of Asian Americans and each year the Unity Dinner chooses a theme that explores a trend or issue that heavily influences the economic, political, and social standings of the Asian American population in the Commonwealth. This year the theme was celebrating “Asian American Healthcare Leaders,” and along with the AADI, the Asian Mental Health Program of Cambridge Health Alliance, the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, the Metta Health Center of Lowell Community Health Center and the South Cove Community Health Center were also honored at the dinner.

Om Ganda, M.D., Medical Director of the Lipid Clinic, Chair of the Clinical Oversight Committee and a Senior Physician at Joslin, served as a co-chair for the Unity Dinner as well as a commissioner on the AAC. As the only physician on the commission, Dr. Ganda is able to share his medical expertise, especially in relation to diabetes, with the rest of the Commission. In fact, it was Dr. Ganda’s recommendation that the AADI be honored for their work with the Asian American population.

“[The AADI] has made a lot of strides in educating the public about the rising epidemic of diabetes all over the world,” said Dr. Ganda.  “This has caused a lot areas of interest [within this field], because of our efforts in the Asian American community, which is a growing community all over the country, and this is one population that has an increased risk of diabetes.”

The AADI was founded in 2000 by George L. King, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin, and friends of Joslin Diabetes Center as a response to the rising rates of diabetes within the Asian American population and the lack of culturally relevant research, clinical care and education.

According to William Hsu, M.D., Director of the Asian Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, Co-Director of Joslin's Asian American Diabetes Initiative and a Senior Physician at Joslin, the AADI initially focused their efforts on research and trying to understand the causes of diabetes. In 2001, the AADI capitalized on the media’s fascination with diabetes and broadened their efforts to fill the void of information about diabetes within the Asian American community.

“Over the years we have done around 100 community outreach programs over the Boston region,” explained Dr. Hsu.  “[These programs] were important because we believe that a lot of people heard about the increased risk of diabetes through these programs. These programs also allowed us to build a great network of support and partnerships with community organizations and this is a hallmark of the AADI.”

By taking an active role within the Asian American community and becoming familiar with the “pulse” and needs of Asian Americans, the AADI was able to successfully raise awareness for Asian Americans with diabetes.

While raising awareness is an important part of the AADI’s work, advocacy is another crucial aspect of their efforts. In order to reach a larger audience, the AADI felt that they needed to partner with a national mechanism that would provide them with more visibility within the Asian American and medical community. About two or three years ago the AADI accomplished this goal when they helped form a national Asian American diabetes coalition called the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Diabetes Coalition (AANHPI-DC) that meets once a year.

Through this coalition the AADI has become very active within the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and this relationship enables the AADI to carry out their mission on a national scale.

“Within the American Diabetes Association we are driving more work, more awareness, more research and more support for the Asian American population,” said Dr. Hsu. “This will culminate in an effort to redefine overweight [standards] and diabetes through the American Diabetes Association, and that’s something we are working towards.”

In 2004, Dr. Hsu founded the now thriving Asian American clinic, which is a culturally focus clinic that focuses on how to improve diabetes care within the Asian American population.

“Our role isn’t to see all the diabetic patients who are Asian American, but really to use [the clinic] as a way to better understand how do we build good programs, effective programs, that bring high quality [care] to improve outcomes,” commented Dr. Hsu.

In addition to the clinic, the AADI and Joslin have published a number of prominent articles and bilingual guides that contribute to the understanding of diabetes in the region.  The AADI has also hosted programs and series all over the U.S. that educate physicians about the prevalence of diabetes within Asian American communities. There is also an online portal for patient education purposes that is accessed by patients from over 120 countries. Lastly, the AADI website (http://aadi.joslin.org/) offers free downloadable diabetes educational materials in English, Chinese and Japanese.

The AADI hopes to build upon their success in the U.S. and expand their efforts globally by taking their knowledge and experiences to Asian countries.

Aside from expanding to an international platform, the AADI also has goals of cultivating the next generation of leaders for the AADI and finding long-term solutions for the diabetes epidemic within Asian populations. These solutions include:

-- Establishing treatment guidelines for Asian Americans
-- Redefining diabetes and obesity in Asian American populations
-- Examining the role of the diet for Asian AmericansExploring why Asian Americans develop diabetes at a lower body mass index (BMI) and how this should impact diet, medication and exercise regimens and protocols
-- Developing a comprehensive program for diabetes prevention and treatment that can be scaled to larger population groups

Both Dr. Ganda and Dr. Hsu agree that the award at the Unity Dinner this month reflects the hard work, dedication and success demonstrated by the AADI over the last 12 years.

“By being awarded by the AAC, it really brings the AADI to the forefront of community efforts at the state level,” observed Dr. Ganda.

“We are so excited at this juncture to be recognized for our efforts by the Asian American Commission of the state of the commonwealth in Massachusetts, [and this] is something that encourages us,” explained Dr. Hsu. “This [award] is a milestone for us and excites us to move forward.”

Not only does this recognition validate the past decade of commitment to fighting high rates of diabetes in the Asian American population, but this honor also serves as motivation for the AADI to continue spreading awareness, advocacy and searching for a solution to the high rates of diabetes in Asian American communities.

“It is pretty amazing looking back over the last 12 years, that we started out from a tiny effort and now we have global footprints and this really speaks to the spirit of the community and to a rising epidemic, and also just to the determination that has driven us for a good decade,” said Dr. Hsu. “I think the future is even brighter [for the AADI].”

Page last updated: October 31, 2014