Focus group discussions with a group of people living with diabetes in Kisarawe, Tanzania.
By the end of this year, a diabetes screening tool that will enable community workers to easily screen people is ready to be launched in the two partner countries Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
To make sure that the new tool is adapted to the communities' needs and cultural practices, and that it will empower them to improve their health through screening and prevention, the Digital Health team at WDF travelled to the two partner countries to co-create a sensitisation campaign with community stakeholders and partners.
The Diabetes Compass initiative kickstarted in 2021 to develop free and simple digital solutions for diabetes tailored to the real needs of local communities and healthcare systems challenged by scarce resources and vulnerabilities along the care pathway.
And there are exciting times ahead, as the first solution, a diabetes community screening tool, will soon be deployed in Sri Lanka and Tanzania. This tool is an app that will enable local community workers to easily screen community members at no cost in their own homes, thus removing important barriers to access to screening in these areas.
Promoting health within the communities, with the communities
To prepare for the launch, the team has recently travelled to the two countries to gather insights for developing communication campaigns that would raise awareness of the tool and educate on diabetes, highlighting the importance of screening to the people it will serve. But how exactly will people become aware of the importance of such health screenings?
Our colleagues in the Digital Health Solutions team leading the Diabetes Compass visited both countries for a series of community sessions to find answers.
They engaged key stakeholders in workshops, focus groups, and conversations to identify the current level of diabetes awareness and motivation to take part in screenings, as well as any potential limitations. They listened to the future users and partners – from healthcare staff and Ministry of Health officers to people with diabetes, and those involved in the screening process.
These inclusive discussions allowed the Diabetes Compass team to better understand the community needs and the key messages, channels and approaches that best resonate with locals. For example, exploring whether people were more responsive to rational and statistical, or more health-promoting and emotional appeals, and how to best communicate to encourage them to get screened.
The Diabetes Compass team outside a health facility in Kalutara, Sri Lanka
As Michael Calopietro, Head of Digital Solutions at WDF, shared in a recent op-ed on digital solutions supporting universal health coverage, ‘while the long, hard work of digital health transformation continues, we believe there is an urgent need for complementary solutions that support the delivery of basic NCD health services’. The screening tool is an example of such an easy-to-use solution that strengthens diabetes and hypertension care today.
Inclusive approaches to fighting diabetes stigma
The consultations in Sri Lanka and Tanzania helped ensure that the materials for the launch were co-created with the community, for the community by considering their cultures and ways of living.
And the results speak for themselves. In Sri Lanka, the findings suggest that there is still a fear of diagnosis and stigma that can prevent people from getting screened. Whereas positive and educational messages are key in raising awareness, fear-based messages were counter-productive, as community members shared this could cause more stigma and turn people off from wanting to get screened.
In a similar manner, in Tanzania, the team engaged with people with diabetes, village leaders, healthcare workers, and Ministry of Health officials to hear their perspectives during focus group discussions and workshops held in Kisaware and Dar Es Salaam.
Workshop with Ministry of Health officers, and Sri Lankan Diabetes Compass Delegation members in Colombo, Sri Lanka
These sessions revealed interesting insights. To make community members aware of the importance of screening, key opinion leaders – religious and village leaders, and traditional healers – should be involved in the process. Moreover, there is a need for basic education about diabetes, as most people are unaware of the condition. In this country, the findings suggest a strong preference for rational messages and culturally adapted visuals that are inclusive of people living with disabilities.
The communication campaigns promoting the diabetes screening tool will be rolled out shortly with the hope that they will give communities sufficient context and knowledge about diabetes and the importance of screening, before the launch.
Here are two examples of such campaign assets developed based on the insights from the communities in Tanzania:
The Diabetes Compass is an initiative to improve the quality of diabetes care in primary care settings by leveraging digital solutions. The initiative aims to reduce vulnerabilities in the diabetes care pathway and improve health for people living with diabetes and hypertension, with a specific focus on 1) improving screening and diagnosis, 2) strengthening health information systems, and 3) building the capacity of healthcare professionals.