Sheila Chipenge is 14 years old, living with type 1 diabetes in rural Malawi. When Sheila first began to experience symptoms, she struggled to find an accurate diagnosis. She was finally diagnosed by Partners In Health’s sister organization in Malawi, Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU) in June 2014 and has been managing her condition since, with support from her family and community health workers. Today, Sheila’s mother Chimwemwe makes sure she receives two insulin injections a day and attends routine hospital visits. And Sheila enjoys going to school, playing with her friends, and realizing her dreams for a healthy and fulfilling life.
What Sheila’s story teaches us
In the rural district of Neno in the southwestern corner of Malawi, most community members are subsistence farmers. While the district of Neno has developed in the last few years, poor, rural communities face many challenges in accessing healthcare, especially during the rainy season.
Type 1 diabetes is a severe condition, believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that usually appears during childhood or adolescence. Over 580,000 children worldwide have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In rural settings of extreme poverty, access to care, essential medicines like insulin, and social support is vital to ensure that someone like Sheila can live with and manage her condition.
While Sheila’s condition is manageable, Sheila’s type 1 diabetes is a burden on everyone in her family. Although Sheila has daily visits from her community health worker, Chimwemwe is her sole care provider. Chimwemwe describes her daily routine: “I inject her twice in the morning and twice in the evening. When I do that, I make sure that her food is ready, so that when she is done with the medication she can eat her food”. Thanks to her supportive family, community health workers, and access consistent care, Sheila is able to thrive at home and in school.