I am Sarah Biyinzika from Uganda, I have been living with type 1 diabetes since 2007. One of my biggest struggles as a young T1D was life in boarding school. Coping with pity stares from school peers to a rigid school diet and, as I was to realise later, my lack of adequate Diabetes education didn’t make it any easier. For instance, I injected the same insulin dose for the best part of 3 years whether my blood sugar levels were high or low. That went on for years until i got on the Novo Nordisk Changing Diabetes in Children Program.
At the CDiC program, I was pleased to finally meet other T1Ds that I am still friends with up to date. It was so refreshing to share stories, learn from their experiences and relate to their struggles. The program also provided and still provides diabetes education and monthly diabetes medical supplies. Coming from a country whose government didn’t and still doesn’t provide free medical supplies to people living with chronic illnesses like Diabetes, this was such a relief for all of us.
Just when my diabetes management had started improving, my mum got suggestions on how to cure diabetes. One of the “doctors” prescribed a fruit diet, herbal medicine (that smelled and tasted like fermented alcohol) and Soya flour that I had to take twice a day for 3 months. According to him, it was the cure of Diabetes. But instead my blood sugar levels spiked so much, I had to stop at only 2 weeks. Inspite of this, my mum kept trying everything that was suggested, “chinese tablets,” Forever living products, herbal remedies etc.
As a way of getting back at my mum for forcing me to take herbs that didn’t work and a huge sense of frustration, I started omitting insulin doses and skipping meals (which was unwise and dangerous.) My sugar levels were on a roller coaster with constant highs and lows. Eventually I started having severe hypoglycemic attacks that left me terrified. There were nights I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I would pass out in my sleep and die due to a severe hypoglycemia. However it was a blessing in disguise because it pushed me to get back on the right track and actively search for diabetes information again.
In the process, I started a blog called The Ugandan Diabetic where I shared my experiences of living with type 1 diabetes in Uganda. I also discovered and started volunteering with a patient organization called Africa Diabetes Alliance which focuses on providing diabetes education, nutrition and lifestyle choices that can support patients with their blood sugar management. I also joined the IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes program that empowers young people living with diabetes to become advocates for themselves and others living with Diabetes worldwide.
My Diabetes management has greatly improved along this new path because I have access to adequate information and a great patient support system. My goal is to share all that I have learnt with other T1Ds in my community so that they can manage and thrive with the condition. However efforts need to be made by the Ugandan government to make Diabetes a priority of the national healthcare agenda to help us manage diabetes better. Centre stage needs to be a strategy/plan to help with affordability and accessibility of diabetes medications.