Our Rights to Health in Africa: A Type 1 Diabetes Youth Advocate Workshop Recap


Image: Kissima draws his insulin syringe during an education workshop at Santé Diabète, Life for a Child’s local partner in Mali.

Life for a Child supports young people living with diabetes in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. In addition to the story shared below, read more about their work supporting young people like Rwandan sisters Ineza and Rebeka at ToClimbAThousandHills.org.

Life for a Child, alongside CLAN Child Health and Insulin for Life, recently hosted an online workshop called “Our Rights to Health in Africa: A Type 1 Diabetes Youth Advocate Workshop.

The conference featured young people, caregivers and healthcare professionals from across Africa, including Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mali, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Each speaker presented their experiences with diabetes and what they have learned as advocates both specifically in Africa as well as key initiatives and tips they find successful no matter where they are. 

The workshop focused on educating participants on how to raise awareness on the practical application of advocacy that is specifically rooted in a rights-based approach for type 1 diabetes in Africa.

The growing issue of non-communicable diseases

The workshop’s first presenter, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng (United Nations Special Rapporteur from South Africa), started the session by reminding listeners that the global management of non-communicable diseases, including type 1 diabetes (T1D), constitutes one of the major challenges of the 21st century as they create tremendous societal, economic and health effects. Diagnoses of non-communicable diseases have also reached concerning levels, with researchers noting an increased prevalence in the developing world. 

Dr. Mofokeng explained that throughout the world, the issue of diabetes is inexplicably related to colonial legacies of land disposition. Due to colonialism, many Native people lost access and resources to land which were traditionally used to grow and maintain nutritional crops. This has created a nutritional vacuum due to issues of accessibility and affordability. To assist those living with diabetes, it is crucial that land ownership is evaluated to ensure people in the Global South have access to nutritious food. 

Additionally, one of the arenas of advocacy that must be met with urgency is that of language. Many struggle to access information about health management because public health messaging is often in English or French, but this is often not the mother-tongue of people in Africa. Moreover, this has led to extreme barriers while trying to explain health management to communities because there is no direct or easy translation. 

Many speakers suggested that in order to combat growing issues of non-communicable diseases, states should address risk factors that lead to premature mobility and mortality to enable all people to achieve the highest standard of physical and mental health. 

Effective Advocacy

A crucial takeaway from the series was the reminder that it is not useful or honest to talk about health determinants (meaning, the social and economic conditions that impact someone’s health) of non-communicable diseases without employing a rights-based approach to center the social impact of the barriers to the right to health faced by people with this condition. 

To understand how to employ a rights-based approach, it is helpful to look at civil society and youth-led organizations. These groups have been consistent in calling for structural reforms to ensure that resources needed for diabetes management are available, from diagnosis onward. Another key factor of these organizations is their demand for respect and the fulfillment of the entitlements that provide the quality of opportunity for people to achieve the highest attainable standard of health. 

Another speaker for the workshop, Dr. Andrew Twineamatsiko of Uganda, explored how his organization derives their rights-based approach from the United Nations Rights for Children Convention. Dr. Twineamatsiko explained that a key factor of children’s rights, as recognized by the United Nations, is the right to live, and therefore, the right to health. By centering his mission’s work around this idea, it has helped them to remain focused and create equitable initiatives for the children they are serving. Advocacy, he also reminded the audience, comes with a lot of engagement, partnerships and a lot of work as change requires a lot of different people and organizations pushing for better health. 

Helpful takeaways

With a wealth of knowledge and experience behind them, the panelists offered translatable advice that could be used in anyone’s work throughout the world, including:

  • Connect with your local communities, both physically and people who share your commonality, and use them as support and resources
  • Know the advocacy landscape in your country and build your advocacy strategy 
  • For advocacy to work, numbers are crucial. 
    • In order to get policymakers to move you need figures to sell your point and make them care/see it’s an issue
  • Advocates everywhere need to push policymakers into a corner and demand for their seat at the table to be taken seriously and be paid attention to. 
  • More advocates and crucial for awareness and sustainability of your cause.
  • Patient-led initiatives lead to the real change.
  • Education is a crucial component of advocacy. 

Life for a Child is compiling a library of relevant advocacy resources developed by global groups. You can find the collection here. Find out how you can help support young people living with diabetes in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities on Life for a Child’s website.

WRITTEN BY Makaila Heifner, POSTED 09/29/21, UPDATED 08/04/23

Makaila was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 16 months old. Before joining the Beyond Type 1 team in 2019, she worked at several diabetes camps, including Camp Leo and DYF. Makaila earned her BA in Global Studies and a minor in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley. When she isn’t editing articles, Makaila is a fan of soup, public radio and live music. Check her out on Instagram: @makailaheifner.