In April 2006, Porter Novelli was appointed by the International Diabetes Federation to prepare and run the press office during the 19th World Diabetes Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. The challenge was to create awareness around diabetes not only in the medical media but also among mass market audiences and to leverage that interest on a global scale to educate people about a disease that is becoming the epidemic of the 21st century.

With hundreds of articles published around the world, the IDF and PN were able to intensify the pressure on governments to vote in favor of a United Nations resolution on diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the most common non-communicable diseases globally and is fast emerging as one of the most serious health problems of our time. It is a global epidemic with devastating humanitarian, social and economic consequences. The disease claims as many lives per year as HIV/AIDS and places a severe burden on healthcare systems and economies everywhere, with the heaviest burden falling on low- and middle-income countries.

It is estimated that 246 million people worldwide live with the disease in 2007, representing 5.9 percent of the adult population. The number is expected to reach some 380 million by 2025, representing 7.1 percent of the adult population.

Yet awareness of the global scale of the diabetes threat remains pitifully low.

IDF organizes a World Diabetes Congress every three years, with the 2006 Congress taking place in Cape Town in early December of 2006. It was the perfect opportunity to create high visibility around diabetes in the trade and general media worldwide. The PR team’s role was to ensure that all communication on diabetes—not only from IDF but also from companies participating in the Congress—needed to be consistent.

The scientific program of the Diabetes Congress was centered round seven streams—basic science, clinical advances, education and care, healthcare and education, healthcare organizations, epidemiology and public health, living with diabetes and diabetes in Africa. PN contacted each of the stream leaders to identify the most interesting news for the media.

After consulting with IDF, PN’s task was to raise awareness around diabetes; positioning it as the epidemic of the 21st century. Target audiences included trade media, lay media, and national diabetes organizations, members of IDF. The approach was to generate independent news from the World Diabetes Congress and secure media coverage of the Congress in order to increase awareness of diabetes among the general public and the medical community.

After developing the core messages for the Word Diabetes Congress, PN identified, together with IDF and the stream leaders, the most valuable news and developed communications materials for the Congress, including press releases, backgrounders and save-the-dates. A total of 12 press releases related to news announced by the IDF during the Congress was distributed to the press during five days. A global press list was developed, incorporating contacts received from several local diabetes associations.

Journalists received a series of  invitations with increasing amounts of information in the run-up to the Congress to entice them to attend the Congress and to generate global news coverage on the latest research coming out of the conferences. PN coordinated the registration process both prior to the congress and onsite. Journalists could pre-register on-line, through the website of the IDF congress. Onsite registration was possible at the press office as well. Journalists had to present valid press accreditations before receiving final accreditation.

Based on the information received from IDF and the stream leaders, PN, in joint collaboration with IDF, organised a total of seven press briefings and two round tables on different subjects such as the newest figures on diabetes, the economic impact of the disease, the Unite for Diabetes campaign, the World Diabetes Day, the use of complementary therapies, diabetes discrimination in the workplace, and the launch of a diabetes declaration and strategy in Africa.

A full schedule of media events was developed and distributed to the attending journalists.

During the Congress, PN acted as a liaison between IDF and the media to respond to journalists’ requests for interviews with IDF spokespeople and investigators. Many interviews were arranged on-site for broadcast, radio and written press.

As usual at large medical meetings, many pharmaceutical companies were interested in presenting their latest news to the attending journalists. Companies were given the opportunity to make their press materials available to journalists in the press office, after a review of the materials by PN. In addition, a number of rooms close to the press office were available to the industry for the organisation of media events. PN liaised with all companies organising a press event on a continuous basis as all bookings and preparations were handled by PN. Eight press conferences organized by pharmaceutical companies took place in the media center during the Congress under the supervision of PN.

A press office was set up in a hotel located convienently opposite the convention center. The press office consisted of a dedicated room for journalists equipped with computers, wifi, printers, a fax machine and telephone lines for their use. Refreshments and lunch were provided as well. In the press office, press materials from IDF and the industry were made available to the journalists.

With over 12,600 people registered for the Congress and 400 speakers, the 19th World Diabetes Congress was the first diabetes meeting of this magnitude to be organised outside Europe. The press office welcomed more than 180 journalists from all over the world.

The topics covered generated mass media interest regionally, nationally and internationally with shocking titles such as “200 kids developing diabetes every day” (Times of India, India), “Diabetes to affect 380 million by 2025” (The Age, Australia), “Youth to bear brunt of diabetes epidemic, experts warn” (People’s Daily online, China), “Diabetes epidemic out of control” (PR newswire, USA), “Diabetes becomes a public health problem” (OneWorld, UK), “Diabetes to affect 7% of the world population in 2025” (O estado do Maranhao, Brazil), “Diabetes: the epidemic of the 21st century” (Medizin Auskunft, Germany), “South Africa: ‘Silent Killer’ Diabetes Takes As Many Lives As HIV and Aids” (Allaafrica, South Africa), “Diabetes to become the epidemic of the century” (Territori Digital, Venezuela).

Interviews conducted during the World Congress include interviews with the South African national television and radio (SABC), BBC (Africa), France Infos Afrique (Africa), Discovery Channel (USA), BBC News (UK), Times of India (UK), Medical Tribune (Japan), Elsevier (The Netherlands), Le Généraliste (France), Reuters (South Africa), Il Corriere del Serra (Italy), Ärtze Zeitung (Germany), Radio France International (France), and more.

This result supported IDF’s Unite for Diabetes campaign, which asks governments to recognize the severity of the diabetes epidemic.In December, the UN passed a landmark resolution recognizing the global threat of the diabetes epidemic. For the first time, governments acknowledged that a non-infectious disease poses as serious a threat to world health as infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Said Professor Martin Silink, IDF president and chair of the Unite for Diabetes campaign, “A key battle has been won in the fight against diabetes. The significance is monumental. It will inspire, energize and empower the diabetes world. People said it couldn’t be done, but only six months since launching our campaign we have achieved our first goal. The struggle will now focus on helping and encouraging governments worldwide to develop national policies to improve diabetes care and prevention. I couldn’t think of a better gift for the millions of families affected by diabetes.”