Belma Malanda Project work in DRC

Stigma faced by women with diabetes is focus of winning submission in first cycle of the WHO Noncommunicable Disease Lab

The first cycle of the virtual Noncommunicable Disease Lab (NCD Lab) thematic area on Women and Girls has been won by a submission that focuses on tackling the stigma faced by women and girls living with diabetes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dr Belma Malanda’s winning submission, on ‘Empowering women bearing the double burden of diabetes and social discrimination’, aims to prevent and reduce the burden faced by women and girls living with diabetes through access to diabetes care, information, education, and opportunities to live safer, less stigmatised, lives.

The NCD Lab thematic area on Women and Girls is co-chaired by The George Institute for Global Health and the World Health Organization’s GCM/NCD Secretariat, and offers a platform for innovative, game-changing projects. It brings stakeholders together to tackle NCD challenges, address their risk factors and determinants, and facilitate an integrated, multisectoral response.

The second cycle of the NCD Lab is open until 22 November 2021. The thematic area on Women and Girls is inviting submissions on primary healthcare innovations for NCD prevention and care which leverage lessons learned from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases to improve access for women and girls. Find out more and apply here.

Dr Malanda’s initiative, which (subject to funding) he hopes to start implementing in coming months across communities in East Congo (Sud-Kivu), will focus on the development of awareness-raising and anti-stigma campaigns to reduce diabetes-related stigma, with a phased approach. Phase 1 will include a baseline analysis of the burden; Phase 2 will implement diabetes education program activities such as peer-to-peer empowerment, and working with community champions to develop testimonies of status disclosure and experience of living with diabetes; Phase 3 will evaluate findings.

The planned outputs include a database on rights violations and discrimination against women and girls with diabetes to inform a policy brief to be updated annually, and key project messages to incorporate into an advocacy strategy designed to empower women and girls living with the condition.

Dr Belma Malanda said:

“I am extremely honoured to be receiving such an important award, the first of its kind from the NCD Lab stream on Women and Girls. This initiative will help in increasing recognition of the linkages between diabetes and women’s and children's health, support the integration of diabetes into existing health systems and maternal and new-born child health initiatives, and empower girls and women to prevent diabetes in current and future generations.”

“I am truly grateful for the recognition I have received for my work, because I am very sure that every other nominee for this award was as capable – if not more – of winning.”

Two further submissions were shortlisted, with the support of the Women and Girls steering committee. Isaac Felix Edimu proposed KAPELA, a screening, sensitisation and training program to enhance the prevention, management and control of NCDs in communities and families in Uganda through outreach teams and targeted referrals to local health facilities.

Also shortlisted was Salvatory Makweta Mlaga’s proposal of the HELLPER Program in the United Republic of Tanzania. Known as ‘the moving specialized hospital’, the aim of HELPPER(TZ) is to run comprehensive mobile healthcare clinics in rural regions to improve access to basic health services and prioritise the screening and diagnosis of NCDs including breast and cervical cancer.

Dr Guy Fones, Head of the Global Coordination Mechanism on NCDs at the World Health Organization said:

“These projects have the potential to make a significant impact in reducing stigma around diabetes and enhancing equitable access to diabetes treatment and care. The winning submissions could potentially also inspire similar projects in other communities or countries.”

The NCD Lab also includes thematic groups on NCDs and the Next Generation, and Meaningful Engagement of People Living with NCDs and Mental Health conditions. All three thematic areas announced their respective winners and shortlisted submissions via the WHO Knowledge Action Portal, with further promotion of the winners planned through showcases on social media, news stories, and webinars.

On Thursday 4 November 2021 a webinar reflecting on the launch of the NCD Lab, showcasing all first-cycle winners, and announcing a call for the second Lab Cycle was held. Speakers included WHO’s Dr Peter Singer (Special Advisor to the Director General), Dr Svetlana Akselrod (Director, Global NCD Platform), Dr Bente Mikkelsen (Director, NCD Department) and Ms Louise Agersnap (Director a.i. and Head, WHO Innovation Hub, Department for Digital Health & Innovation.

For updates on the NCD Lab please sign-up to the WHO Knowledge Action Portal newsletter here, and check out The George Institute’s webpage.