Accolades but still no govt funding for diabetes dog charity Kotuku Foundation

Accolades but still no govt funding for diabetes dog charity Kotuku Foundation

The founder of a charity providing lifesaving diabetes detector dogs has been recognised with a national award, but is still left wondering why they get no Government funding.

It's been a big year for the Kotuku Foundation, celebrating 10 years of work and two national community awards for the charity and founder Merenia Donne.

On Thursday, Ms Donne picked up her Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Local Hero medal. The foundation also received a commendation in the Trustpower Whanganui District Community Awards in October.

Accolades but still no govt funding for diabetes dog charity Kotuku Foundation

Kotuku Foundation founder Merenia Donne, centre, at the Trustpower Community Awards (Supplied)

"Absolutely I am only accepting it on behalf of everybody that's been involved in our charity and instrumental in us being able to achieve what we have in the relatively short time we've been around," Ms Donne says.

The foundation works with type-1 diabetics and trains dogs to raise the alarm when they smell their owner's blood sugar level changing. That warning then prompts the owner to check their levels and take the appropriate action.

The symptoms of hypoglycaemia - or low blood sugar - in diabetics include headaches, rapid heartbeat, shaking and sweating.

Trained dogs can catch changes in blood sugar levels well before their owners notice anything, thereby preventing costly trips to the hospital.

Ms Donne says each visit to the Emergency Room costs around $4000, and estimates the charity's saved the health system $4 million since their first dogs were trained in 2013.

But despite that, she says the Ministry of Health refuses to fund the charity even though there is peer-reviewed science backing their work. 

The Ministry of Health says while it is "always open" to new ways to combat diabetes, the diabetes detector dogs aren't on the list.

"We need to be cautious in making sure such programmes are evidence-based, properly evaluated and cost-effective.

"At this point the use of diabetes detector dogs are not being considered as part of our long-term programme", Clinical Advisor for Diabetes Dr Paul Drury says.

Dr Drury, however, said there were "promising developing technologies" overseas which could help those with type-1 diabetes in the future.

Ms Donne says the ministry's response is "typical".

"I'm hoping at some point we might be able to push it further in terms of the huge waste they have in the health department - not just us and what we can offer them, but the fact they consistently throw truckloads of money at stuff that doesn't work.

"And yet they refuse to invest in even pilot studies of what has been proven to work. To me that does not seem like rocket science."

Diabetes is a disease which afflicts an estimated 240,000 Kiwis - around 10 percent of whom have type-1.

But that number could be much bigger. The Ministry of Health believes there could be another 100,000 people who have diabetes and don't know it.

With those kinds of numbers, demand for the diabetes detector dogs is inevitably high. The charity has 12 dogs - either trained or in training. In comparison, there are only 124 worldwide.

A number of different breeds can be trained for the job, though German shepherds are considered the best at it.

Training can take anywhere between six months to two years and is comparable to the what Customs and Biosecurity dogs go through.

The majority of their preparation is "training the dog not to be a dog" and ignore distractions in public places, Ms Donne says.

Accolades but still no govt funding for diabetes dog charity Kotuku Foundation

They're trained to hone in on levels of isoprene on a human's breath which is undetectable by people and is a sign of high or low blood pressure.

Isoprene levels rise dramatically during bouts of hypoglycaemia, but researchers are unsure why.