Tour du Rwanda inspires Rwandans with type 1 diabetes

People with diabetes can live full lives, and compete at the highest levels of international sport.

07 March 2022 Nathalie Bille

Cyclists competing in Tour de Rwanda arrive in the country’s capital, Kigali, after a week of racing.

People with diabetes can live full lives, and compete at the highest levels of international sport.

That was one of the key takeaways for Rwandans with type 1 diabetes who gathered in Kigali on 27th of February at the finish line of the 2022 Tour du Rwanda. They were joined by WDF partners and staff who had also met up to experience the renowned international sporting event.

Nineteen teams raced for 937.1 km throughout the hilly landscape of Rwanda to cross the finish line in Kigali. Among the participating teams were Team Novo Nordisk – the world’s first professional team where all athletes are living with type 1 diabetes. 

After the race the athletes from Team Novo Nordisk met with spectators to inspire, empower and share their experiences of being a professional sports athlete, managing blood sugar levels and living a normal life.

Umberto Poli from Team Novo Nordisk (right) was among those who met patients and friends at the race.

Hiding their disease

Rwandans with type 1 diabetes shared their stories, including challenges of living with the disease in their homeland – the importance of access to insulin, lack of education and support of their families, but also lack of awareness, especially in the rural areas. Patients also complained about stigmatisation at schools and from the labour market due to general disbelief that people with diabetes are not capable to do certain things.

“Many are hiding their disease as they are afraid it will have consequences on their everyday life if anyone finds out about their diabetes,” says Nathalie Bille, Research Associate at WDF who was present at the event. “They are afraid of not getting a job, finding a partner or being associated and known as ‘the one with diabetes.’”

WDF partners from Rwanda Diabetes Association and Rwanda Biomedical Centre also attended the event. With WDF support, both organisations are working to close the gaps in delivering adequate diabetes care and overcome the barriers faced by Rwandans living with type 1 diabetes. 

These efforts include a partnership with the Rwanda Diabetes Association to provide sustainable care for young people living with type 1 diabetes in Rwanda. WDF is partnering with Rwanda Biomedical Centre to improve care for Rwandans with type 1 diabetes through the project Integrating type 1 diabetes care into health systems in Eastern Africa and the Middle East. The project’s objective is to improve the capacity building and awareness of diabetes. 

Strong performances

Team Novo Nordisk was among 19 international teams competing in the tournament, the biggest UCI cycling race in Africa. Eritrean cyclist Natnael Tesfatsion won the race, just ahead of Ukranian Anatoliy Budyak, whose strong performance during a time of crisis for his country was applauded by spectators and fellow riders alike. 

The top Team Novo Nordisk result was from Hungarian Péter Kusztor, who finished in 35th place.

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