A Western Cape dietitian is on a mission to empower and educate Cape Town’s kasi communities about chronic health conditions. With her base of operations in Delft on the Cape Flats, Joy Williams is the founder of Great, a diabetes programme through which she empowers patients to better manager the chronic illness.
The Group Empowerment and Training (Great) programme offers group support for patients and training for healthcare providers in diabetes. “Research has indicated that patients benefit greatly from group counseling sessions,” she says.
“The Great programme offers a new way of thinking and learning in patient education, specifically in the context of diabetes management,” Williams explains.
Williams tells Health For Mzansi that the project started in Khayelitsha and the eastern districts of Cape Town. The initiative was later rolled out in Delft, which forms part of the northern and Tygerberg district.
“I received training along with two other dietitians to roll out this programme. After the training, we went back to our respective facilities and implemented this programme by facilitating group sessions. After the first few sessions, we could see the difference it made to patients. We have started to train other healthcare workers who will become facilitators to support more patients.”
‘I felt valued’
One patient, Max Ben, from Delft says the programme made him feel valued and changed his life. In December 2020, Ben contracted Covid-19 and was hospitalised. Soon after his hospitalisation, Ben discovered that he had diabetes.
He knew he would need help to manage his new chronic illness and reached out to healthcare workers at the Symphony Way Community Day Centre in Delft, where he joined the Living Great with Diabetes Programme.
“I was very sick when I had Covid-19 and later found out I am a diabetic,” he says. “I knew that healthy living would be important. I decided to join the Living Great with Diabetes Programme.
“They called me and told me when I could join a diabetes group session. They taught us how to create a healthy diet and I have stuck with it since 2021 and am seeing the benefits. They have also taught us about importance of exercise, and I go for walks regularly now.”
A challenge that proved difficult to overcome was the hard Covid-19 lockdown of 2020, when group sessions could no longer take place in person. This, however, did not deter Williams who was determined to continue the programme with her patients. She partnered with the Stellenbosch University to deliver tablets for each patient to join group sessions online.
Planning for the future
The programme was first launched in 2018 under the guidance of Stellenbosch University’s Dr Joleen Cairncross.
“In 2018 Symphony Way CDC became a pilot site for the implementation of a comprehensive approach to patient education and counselling for non-communicable diseases in primary care. This was a collaborative approach partnering with the division of family medicine at Stellenbosch University, and the Collaboration for Evidence-Based Healthcare and Public Health in Africa.
“This is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). It is part of the initiative for strengthening research networks for health innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa and is based on the federal government’s strategy for the internationalisation of science and research,” says Cairncross.
Meanwhile Williams hopes to train more healthcare workers to bring the service to other communities, such as Elsies River.
“Our vision as a district health team is to train at least three facilitators per clinic to implement these groups in our healthcare facilities. This will empower our healthcare staff and improve their knowledge on the management of people living with diabetes.”
Easy tips for diabetics
Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. The good news is that diabetes can be treated, and its consequences avoided or delayed with diet, physical activity, medication and regular screening and treatment for complications.
Williams shares three tips for people living with diabetes:
1. Practice portion control, eat complex starches, lean meats, and increase your consumption of vegetables and salads in all your meals.
2. Exercise 30 – 45min, 3 – 4 times per week (150 min/week).
3. Use your chronic medication every day as prescribed by your medical doctor.
If you need support, visit your nearest clinic for counselling with a dietitian.