Four Beijing hospitals are to offer training to diabetics on how to better control their condition, thanks to a pilot project of an international programme.
The Beijing Diabetes Prevention and Treatment Association has teamed up with Peers for Progress to develop a project in which patients support each other to manage the disorder.
"It will provide a service doctors are not able to offer," said Chen Wei, director of the association.
Hospitals taking part include Peking Union Medical College Hospital and a private hospital that specializes in diabetes treatment.
Chen, who is also a doctor at the medical college hospital, said the association began collaborating with large hospitals in urban and suburban areas seven years ago, providing monthly lectures on treating diabetes. However, he said the effect had been limited.
"Many patients don't follow advice strictly because they don't know how they can do the everyday treatment on their own," he said. "A peer support programme aims to make this possible.
"For example, a patient may need someone to tell him how to reduce the pain of daily insulin injections. The person in the best position to do that is another diabetic who can share their experience, not a doctor."
Maggy Coufal, senior programme manager of Peers for Progress, which was launched by the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, said her group has designed models and tools for the pilot project.
"We'll train two doctors in each of the four hospitals on peer support know-how," Chen explained. "Those doctors will in turn train selected patients on peer support, who will continue to educate and lead others.
"Hopefully, by the end of 2013, there will be 500 trained patients helping diabetics to cope with problems in the community, which doctors don't have the time or experience to do."
Coufal agreed, and said she hoped the project can help diabetics: "Live an inspirational life with advice and support from peers".
Yuan Shiliang, 74, was diagnosed with diabetes 24 years ago. He said he understands the importance of peer support.
"There are patients who don't follow the doctor's advice because they don't trust them, but they trust other diabetics," he said. "I suggest medical institutions provide different courses for patients with different symptoms and knowledge, so that they can go on to spread specialised and correct knowledge on managing the disorder."
The project is also expected to advocate prevention, according to Qian Rongli, a doctor at Peking University No 1 Hospital.
"Not only has the number of Chinese people with diabetes increased at a rapid pace in the past two decades, but also the age of this population is getting younger," the professor said.
"The only way to lower the rate is to prevent it from happening.
"I hope diabetics pay attention to not only their own treatment, but also remind their children to prevent the disease," he added.
According to Chen, the population with diabetes in China increased from less than 1 per cent in the early 1980s to nearly 10 per cent in 2007.
"Through this project, we can reach out to senior people who have diabetes. But their children, in their 40s and 50s, the time when there is the greatest risk of getting the disorder, are usually too busy to take on training sessions," he said. "Hopefully, their parents can influence them on active prevention."