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Diabetes education research: June 2020

Sweet Life is South Africa’s diabetes community: a space to share information and advice about living well with diabetes, both here on the website and on Diabetic South Africans. But we’re also involved in diabetes education research – a big focus for 2020. Each month, we’ll be sharing the research we’ve done into diabetes education in public clinics, in the hopes that it helps someone else looking for answers to diabetic questions! This is the June report, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page for the other months.

diabetes education research

June focus:

The focus this month was on moving the diabetes education app project forward with the National Dept of Health. We refined the proposal with Praekelt, presented it to the Diabetes Alliance task team, the entire Diabetes Alliance and the National Dept of Health. Now we are ready for the next step: discussing the proposal in detail with NDOH. We have requested this follow-up meeting.

At the same time, we have been providing information and support to people with diabetes during COVID-19, and have developed a COVID-19 resource page on our website. 

We are close to finalising the first version of the diabetes food education booklet, and will be printing it in July / early August.

Diabetes app proposal overview:

Here is a brief overview of the proposal from

This proposal is for the National Dept of Health, in partnership with, the South African Diabetes Alliance and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) BeHe@lthyBeMobile (BHBM) programme to provide support to individuals in South Africa on Type 2 Diabetes via WhatsApp.

This concept note outlines the proposed innovation and the budget requirements to design, develop and implement the first WhatsApp-based diabetes support service for people in South Africa.

Leveraging our experience of designing, developing and implementing sustainable mobile programmes at scale, believes we are uniquely positioned to develop and test a standalone WhatsApp-based support service in South Africa to help individuals prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes, which can be extended to mothers on MomConnect as well as nurses on NurseConnect.

Leveraging our platform – a behaviour change tool that uses machine learning and natural language understanding to engage beneficiaries at scale – we can connect three key actors in the healthcare ecosystem: the patient, the health worker and the health system through personalised, guided conversations. Patients can receive information tailored to their circumstances, nurses can better service the patients they serve, and the NDOH can receive critical feedback from both patients and nurses to build and strengthen the healthcare system.

Diabetes education app

This can only be made possible with support from organisations in the field of diabetes prevention and management: the South African Diabetes Alliance, the Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) department at the NDOH and the WHO’s BHBM programme.

In the field of digital health interventions, the WHO’s BHBM programme has been successfully implemented in many countries by governments looking to educate constituents via SMS messaging to make healthier lifestyle choices that can help prevent and manage NCDs. and WHO have been exploring a partnership to improve the scale, sustainability and impact of BHBM using WhatsApp. We believe that this partnership can be expanded upon to leverage’s existing relationships with WhatsApp and the NDOH, and WHO’s existing evidence-based mDiabetes content and convening power, for this particular use case in South Africa.

The BHBM mDiabetes content set to provide information and at the same time enhance prevention, motivate testing in people at risk and provide appropriate, culturally relevant guidance for both people with diabetes and the general population. This will be delivered in a personalised manner to promote health-seeking behaviours and support health and well-being.

Two streams:

  1. Create DiabetesConnect 
  2. Strengthen MomConnect and NurseConnect with diabetes training and updated diabetes information.

The activities outlined above present a holistic offering to support patients and healthcare workers on diabetes prevention and management through guided conversations on WhatsApp.

For patients, we can enable personalised support, generate demand for healthcare services, and help promote a healthier lifestyle. For help desk operators and nurses, we can facilitate knowledge strengthening to improve their ability to offer diabetes-related support and care.

Questions and comments:

Health literacy

We would need to make the diabetes education app simple enough to understand for a South African audience – we are assuming that the health literacy level of South Africans is in the Grade 4 to Grade 7 region.

The BHBM mDiabetes content set provides information and at the same time enhances prevention, motivates testing in people at risk and provides appropriate, culturally relevant guidance for both people with diabetes and the general population. This will be delivered in a personalised manner to promote health-seeking behaviours and support health and well-being.

Localised and translated messages

The pilot would be in English, and thereafter we could translate to the top 5 languages in SA. MomConnect is in all 11 official languages. 

Key stakeholders

  • Diabetes Alliance: here is a recording of the Diabetes Alliance meeting where this proposal was discussed.
  • National Dept of Health: here is a recording of the meeting with the National Dept of Health where this proposal was discussed. 

Time critical

There is particular urgency now because of the increased risk of people with diabetes during COVID-19.

Next steps: July

  1. Organise meeting with NDoH to further discussion and take next steps on the proposal.
  2. Finalise and print the diabetes food education booklet.

The 2020 Diabetes Education Project by Sweet Life is supported by Pick n Pay and BD.

Read the whole diabetes education research series:

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.