Supporting Youth with Diabetes in Tanzania – George Kwayu

We actually first met George many years ago through a global diabetes program. Fast forward to January 2019, we’re hanging out at the Medtronic Bakken Honoree Invitation event in Hawaii! During this time, we got to share many more stories and the we heard the amazing work that George has accomplished and continues to do for youth with diabetes in Tanzania.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1DM) in 1999 and have been on Insulin therapy since I was 4 years old. I take insulin four times daily, and regular blood glucose monitoring, along with a healthy diet and regular physical exercise. 

I was inspired to help other children and adolescents in 2010 after facing many challenges in my own life, such as stigma at school and other family problems. To live with T1DM in a developing country such as Tanzania is a major challenge. Communities are often not aware about diabetes and assume this is a condition which develops in older people as a result of the ageing process. I therefore, made it my aim to improve the life of others with T1DM by providing education to schools and the community at large. This was undertaken through visiting many T1DM clinics throughout Tanzania, making use of Mass Media such as Television, radio, newspaper articles, social networks such as WhatsApp Groups, Facebook and Instagram.

The drivers that led me to set up this project came through the stigma and isolation faced by all T1DM young people in Tanzania because of lack of knowledge in the community. In 2012 the Tanzania Diabetes Youth Alliance (TDYA) was established with the following objectives:

  • Spread information throughout Tanzania about children and adolescents with T1DM
  • Empower T1DM young people to live and have a voice in our government and society
  • Teach about T1DM to all schools throughout Tanzania and provide literature on T1DM for all heads of schools and teachers 
  • Provide counselling and peer to peer education centers
  • Establish T1DM leaders in every T1DM clinic to work alongside medical staff

Since 2012 when the Tanzanian Diabetes Youth Alliance (TDYA) was established, we now have TDYA branches at 34 T1DM clinics where we collaborate with health care providers around the country. Youth leaders, male and female, a Chairperson, a Secretary and Responsible parent have all been selected at each clinic. The function of those leaders and responsible parents will be to conduct peer to peer education, counselling, and raise funds for T1DM camps and activities.

I established the (TDYA) WhatsApp group in 2014, which is used to provide T1DM education and counselling. By connecting our youth with health care providers such as Doctors and Sisters in charge of the clinics and officials from the Tanzania Ministry of Health and the Medical Store Department (MSD), T1DM youth have a platform to present their challenges both medically and socially. TDYA WhatsApp group currently has more than 200 participants. Newly diagnosed children and their caretakers along with adolescents with T1DM, face major challenges. To be part of this WhatsApp group and to be in regular contact with others who have experience in T1DM is proving to be of great value. Facebook and Instagram pages are also provide another means to inspire and give encouragement.

Recently at Muhimbili National Hospital, the main referral hospital in Tanzania, permission has been given to establish a Counselling Center which is now in the process of being renovated. This will provide daily counselling for T1DM youth along with caretakers and parents with young T1DM children. T1DM graduates, medical staff and trained peer to peer personnel will be involved in this activity. If successful it can be run across the country.

In the next five years, I would like to see Tanzanian youth with T1DM have a strong voice in our community and be empowered by the Government in Health Care, for example, requesting that TDYA be represented at all stakeholder meetings concerned with diabetes. As a Leader of the youth living with T1DM, my dream is to see myself and all children and youth throughout the developing world, to be given respect and treated as any other young person and to be able to achieve their goals and dreams for their lives. Young people with T1DM should become confident members of society and contribute to the workforce. No child or youth should lose hope for their future and die because of diabetes.

To follow the work that George and TDYA are doing, check out these social media channels:

Tanzania Diabetes Youth Alliance Facebook: @tdya2012

Instagram: @George_Kwayu

Twitter: @GeorgeKwayu

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