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Living with diabetes during Coronavirus

When COVID-19 hit South Africa, we had no idea what to expect. For the first few days and weeks, it felt as if we were walking around in the dark, uncertain of the next steps and how to respond, unsure whether we should stay behind closed doors or treat the virus as ‘a bad case of the flu’. As more information emerged from the rest of the world, it informed our decisions – and, when our President put a strict lockdown in place, it changed our lives. At that point many of us were filled with fear.

What about people already living with the daily burden of a chronic condition? For people with diabetes, COVID-19 had greater implications from the outset.

South Africans with diabetes online

Sweet Life Diabetes Community is a South African non-profit, and our Facebook page, Diabetic South Africans, is the largest and most active online diabetes community in the country. Given our footprint, we were able to reach out to people living with diabetes immediately and offer advice, support, and a space to connect. As with all our articles, we only shared what was medically accurate – the latest data and input collated directly from diabetes specialists. Straight away we realised the most effective way to fight the fear of COVID-19 would be to provide clear, accurate information.

At first, we didn’t know much. Data told us that people with diabetes were at greater risk. However, we really wanted to calm the fears of COVID-19 with simple, practical information. And that’s what we’ve continued to do.

Straight away we realised the most effective way to fight the fear of COVID-19 would be to provide clear, accurate information.

Simple, actionable advice

In the face of a global pandemic, the natural instinct is to panic. The best antidote to this is clear, actionable advice. Now that we know how serious COVID-19 can be, the early advice that we provided does not seem strong enough, but at that time telling people not to hug felt revolutionary.

The next step in our COVID-19 journey was to gather all the resources available to people living with diabetes in South Africa. The pharmaceutical industry really stepped up, with Sanofi, Roche, BD and Abbott offering online resources to support people with diabetes and help them to remotely connect with health professionals to get medical advice.

One of the interesting things about COVID-19 was the overwhelming amount of information available. It wasn’t that we did not have enough information. Rather, we were drowning in it. To tackle this, we published an article on coronavirus precautions and tips for people living with diabetes that cut through the noise and highlighted the most important aspects.

5 coronavirus and diabetes tips
Community sharing

Everything we shared on the website, we also shared on our Facebook page. People needed space to express their concerns and get a chance to comment on what was happening around them. “How are you feeling about the coronavirus situation? We’re all in this together… was one of the posts people engaged with the most.

Many times, our Facebook page has been a forum for discussing anxieties and coping mechanisms, talking about the practical aspects of whether or not to return to school or work, and knowing that the people you are talking to understand your concerns. Diabetes can be an isolating condition. Our community is here to highlight the fact that no matter what you are going through, you are not alone.

Living with diabetes during coronavirus

In the middle of lockdown, we also wanted to highlight how some people with diabetes were coping with the pandemic, to provide solace and inspiration to those who were finding it difficult. We published an article in which 10 people with diabetes shared how coronavirus affected their diabetes, that did just that, sharing the lived experience of a chronic condition during COVID-19.

Sharing the latest data

We’ve been able to share the latest COVID-19 data in a way that makes sense to our readers. Our article “What we know about COVID-19 and diabetes took all the latest research and made it understandable, while our two articles “COVID-19 diabetes advice from a doctor and “COVID-19 update from a doctor delivered the latest information directly to our readers. We are lucky to have Prof. Joel Dave, one of South Africa’s top endocrinologists on our Panel of Experts. As Head of Endocrinology at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, the epicentre of COVID-19 in South Africa, he has direct experience.

Our Facebook page has been a forum for discussing anxieties and coping mechanisms.

We’re all in this together

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of living with diabetes during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the community. Our Facebook page continues to share the most relevant, timely data, and provide a space to discuss how we feel about it and how we feel about living with compromised immunity during this time. We are all in this together.


Bridget McNulty lives with type 1 diabetes and is a published author and co-founder of Sweet Life Diabetes Community. She is also a member of the IDF Blue Circle Voices network.

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