Kabeza, the Rwandan medic using tech to raise awareness on diabetes

People being tested for diabetes. / Courtesy

In 2013, Claudine Kabeza encountered 100 cases of children and teens who lived with diabetes at an educational camp in Kigali.

The same year, her mother had been killed by the disease.

Most of the children and teens she met for the first time were diagnosed with diabetes 1.

Diabetes is a disease in which a person’s blood glucose or sugar levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat.

With type 1 diabetes, someone’s body does not make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose gets into cells to give them energy.

“During the time I met the children, I was trying to get more educational information about diabetes, I was a medical student pursuing my master’s degree,” she recounts.

Kabeza, who will soon acquire her doctorate, was particularly interested in researching about the disease because she had a personal experience, having lived with her mother who had spent 15 years with the disease.

“Having witnessed how she struggled with self-care and diabetes self-management with little information at hand, I felt a duty to ensure enough information is at the disposal of the diabetes patient as possible,” she says.

However, what sparked her interest were the young people she met at an educational camp, which had been  organised by Rwanda Diabetes Association, an organisation that supports people with diabetes.

“They were resilient, they wanted to be together and they had bigger dreams,” she recalls.

The camp had been organised under the theme: “It won’t stop my dream”, reflecting the same resilience that the young have.

In reality, diabetes is a chronic disease but, with self-care, victims are able to live a healthy life. However, so often people living with the disease lack enough information.

Kabeza wanted to respond to that challenge, by tapping into the power of technology.

The technology

The medical student at Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany designed a mobile phone application – Kir’App – that aims at raising awareness about the disease.

The application, currently available on Android, enables those diagnosed with diabetes to self-manage their health. It responds to what she calls a “big gap that exists in diabetes education among people living with diabetes in Rwanda”.

The application provides content regarding the disease, offers advice about eating habits, and makes suggestions about when or which tests to take, as well as the kinds of sport one should do.

At the moment, her target is that segment of people who use smartphones, most of whom include the teens she met six years ago.

She also targets those who live near those who have diabetes, including neighbours, friends and relatives who can share information with others who don’t have the same access.

In Rwanda, there are around 187, 280 adults who are diagnosed with diabetes, according to Rwanda Biomedical centre (RBC).

Although there is no recent study that pinpoints the extent of the educational gap, Kabeza says several studies have brought to light the fact that Rwanda’s diabetes education is poor, and that it is of urgent importance to address it.

On the global scale, approximately 425 million adults (age 20 to 79 years) have diabetes. This means roughly 1 in 11 people.

The medical student is optimistic.

“Rwanda’s digital technology is rapidly developing, so is the use of smartphone applications like WhatsApp. This is a suitable environment to bring diabetes awareness to the masses,” she notes.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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