We chat to Thapi Semenya, who has been living with Type 1 diabetes for 16 years, about how she uses social media as a platform for diabetes advocacy.
Thapi Semenya is a diabetes advocate and uses her social media accounts to educate about her multiple chronic conditions namely diabetes, vitiligo and bipolar disorder.
She is currently studying Law and is a looking to specialise in health law. Her passion for advocacy started in 2018 when she realised that she wanted to form a community and allow for a space where people living with diabetes can come together and share their hopes and struggles. The focus of her advocacy is access to basic diabetes management and affordability of diabetes technologies.
Thapi is also a dedoc° voice; dedoc° is an international community by and for people with diabetes, and she is also a trainee in the IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes programme for 2022-2024.
Her volunteer work includes working as a professional advisor for a Glasgow-based charity, The Luna Project UK, that is committed to raising awareness of and supporting disabled young people
One-on-one with Thapi
When were you diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?
I was diagnosed in 2006.
What were your symptoms?
Nausea, excessive thirst, frequent urination.
When and why do you advise people to start testing for diabetes?
It’s important to continuously test as diabetes is a condition that can be diagnosed at any stage in your life, but it’s important to test when you show symptoms or if you know you have a family history of diabetes.
What treatment do you use to manage your diabetes?
A continuous glucose monitor and multiple daily insulin injections.
How often do you test your glucose levels?
Because I wear a continuous glucose monitor, I get my readings every five minutes. However, I pay more attention to them before meals and two hours after meals.
Have you experienced an hypo (hypoglycaemia) episode and how did you treat it?
Yes, I have frequent hypos and I treat them by eating a fruit, like a banana, or glucose sweets. Sometimes fruit juice also works but it ultimately ends up spiking my blood glucose levels so I try to avoid it.
How do you manage your diabetes?
Changing from a glucometer to a continuous glucose monitor has been one of the best ways to manage my diabetes. Besides the continuous glucose monitor, I exercise and move around often, drink water, eat smaller portions at every meal, snack regularly and check my blood glucose levels habitually which enables me to do corrections, especially when I’ve eaten something that could potentially increase my blood glucose levels.
What is the most challenging aspect of nutrition for you?
The most frustrating aspect of nutrition is how we as people living with diabetes are expected to follow diets such as the low-carb diet. I find this extremely frustrating as not all households can afford this particular diet, and most of the staple foods we eat, especially in African homes, contain a lot of carbohydrates.
Has diabetes ever affected your work or education?
It has affected my education. In 2019, I had to move back home when COVID started due to the fact that people living with diabetes were considered to be high-risk of contracting COVID so I had to go from being a full-time student to a part-time student and studying online at home.
Do you ever feel the need to hide your diabetes from people?
No, I’m comfortable to talk about my condition.
How do you raise awareness about diabetes amongst your peers?
By advocating on my social media platforms. I do community work and run support groups for other people living with diabetes. I volunteer at various diabetes organisations to help people receive insulin and I’m part of international diabetes communities, such as dedoc° voices, which allows us to interact with other diabetes advocates around the world. Luckily, we get scholarships to attend conferences namely EASD, ATTD and ISPAD. Through attending these conferences, we take what we learn from them and we pay it forward to our communities.
Do you exercise, if so did you start because you have, or was it a lifestyle choice?
Yes I do. This was a lifestyle choice and mainly because I love moving around.
What has diabetes not stopped you from doing?
Diabetes has not stopped me from obtaining my degree, getting my voice heard on large platforms, modelling, or being anything I want to be. I have done so much and diabetes has helped me to grow as an individual.