Understanding diabetes in animated video

One of the complications of diabetes is renal failure.

An animated video about the complications of diabetes is helping people better understand a disease that kills more than a million people annually and is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes in 2016 and another 2.2 million deaths were attributable to high blood glucose in 2012. Diabetes prevalence has been rising more rapidly in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

3 Teaspoons of Sugar is the brainchild of Dr Tshepo Maaka and her animator daughter, Kabelo. The film made it to the semi-finals of the Lagos International Festival of Animation 2020 and was specially selected for the Africa Rising International Film Festival in 2019.

With Covid-19 about to peak in South Africa and diabetes among the comorbidities to put people at severe risk, the film balances the reality and dangers of this complicated disease, with a personal touch.

The stories are family based, and searingly honest. Dr T (as she calls herself) says the animation was her idea. Kabelo says she enjoys
working with someone who has always had her back and whom she has always wanted to make proud.

“When we win competitions or when we work as a tag-team in boardrooms those are moments of joy. The challenge is switching off and balancing between being businesses partners and being mother and daughter. I think we do it well, but there are some days where business talk has to be done at breakfast and working hours go way beyond 5pm. That’s the nature of running a start-up.”

Kabelo grew up immersed in animation and cartoons. “For whatever reason,” she says “when other kids started outgrowing cartoons, I didn’t. For the longest time, to me, animation was magic – I didn’t know that it was made by actual people.”Animation exists all on its own. That’s important because then you can engage with the content of the animation without being distracted by the performers or real people and live locations.”

Last year, Kabelo spoke at the Cape Town International Animation Festival, introducing medical animation to the genre.

“We wanted to show that animation has a variety of uses beyond entertainment in film and television, and older audiences could also benefit from watching it. I also spoke about studying animation and working as an animation lecturer.”

Kabelo studied in South Africa to get her Honours degree in animation and a little bit in France at the international summer school hosted by Gobelins L’Ecole de L’imakge.

The animation highlights glaucoma, cataracts and blindness for the eyes and silent heart attacks due to blockages of the heart arteries. Sometimes diabetics whose nerves are affected are not able to experience signs of a heart attack. It also looks at terminal kidney failure with a need for dialysis, and ulcers in the feet that don’t heal.

Sufferers also can have their gut health affected, and nerve damage in their guts often results in frequent diarrhoea. Others have strokes from diabetes and gangrene in their toes and fingers that result in amputations.

Dr T says diabetes and stress are linked in various ways. “Stress can both contribute to and be as a result of diabetes. Stress can increase blood-sugar levels, and having to plan one’s meals can be stressful. Life stress is a risk for type 2 diabetes sufferers.”

She says what we eat plays an important role in the development of diabetes. For example, Chinese Americans, with a Western diet high in fat and sugar, are more prone to it than those in rural China.

Dr T says there are anecdotal reports of people who have had their sugar level improved significantly with intermittent fasting, but, she would recommend consulting with your diabetologist/physician before embarking on this as a way of solely managing diabetes.

Dr T implores families to look for alternative healthy treats. “The other thing to do, as we have done in my family, is to eat only those desserts that our diabetic family members could also enjoy, for inclusion and solidarity sake.”

Dr T shares various health tips every week or so on the Cabblow Studios Instagram page. “Right now she has been sharing tips for coping with the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Kabelo. “We are also developing a sequel to 3 Teaspoons of Sugar called The Little Teaspoon of Sugar, which tackles diabetes in children – last year my mother diagnosed a 13-year-old girl with diabetes – it just made the topic more urgent.”