‘Blood Sugars’ was a three-year collaborative project between the University of the Witwatersrand and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) leading to a series of performances in summer 2017 across Johannesburg and Soweto.

The project used theatre and applied drama to help us understand the unique challenges presented by diabetes in South Africa. Initiated by the Health Communication Research Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand, ‘Blood Sugars’ was delivered in collaboration with Drama for Life, the university’s specialists in applied drama, and the diabetes and endocrinology clinic at CHBAH.

Diabetes is one of the world’s fastest-growing health problems – in 2015, 347 million people worldwide were reported to be living with diabetes and more than 80% of these live in low- and middle-income countries.* More than 8.3% of the South African population live with diabetes, and this figure continues to grow exponentially.**

In response to this burgeoning health crisis, the Blood Sugars team has been working with people who live with diabetes and the clinicians who care for them, to develop a brand new play, raising awareness not just of the causes of diabetes but also its treatments.

The play is derived from a series of workshops at the diabetes clinic at CHBAH, designed to help us understand the real challenges of living and working with diabetes in South Africa.

Research by the Blood Sugars team has revealed the enormity and breadth of these challenges, from the resource pressures affecting government health providers, to a lack of public understanding of the condition, to complex treatment regimes that impact every area of life, from food to employment to relationships.

Dr Bruno Pauly, from CHBAH, says: ‘Living with diabetes affects patients 24/7. Doctors and nurses often find it difficult to understand our patients’ challenges, fears and worries. We battle to get our messages across and often fail to address the real issues that could empower our patients to do things better. Drama is a fun way to do exactly this: Taking diabetes out of the boring and often stressful clinic environment. Getting the message across by starting a conversation and learning from others who are in the same boat.’

Performances will be held at schools and clinics, as well as at the University of the Witwatersrand, this October and November. Each performance will be followed by audience discussions at each venue, where we hope people will talk about their own experiences and help build our knowledge of the condition and its real impact on people’s lives.

For further information, please get in touch via the contact page, or read our Leaflet for Blood Sugars here.

The Health Communication Research Unit is a multidisciplinary research group at the University of the Witwatersrand concerned with the unique challenges of cross-cultural, cross-linguistic communication in health care contexts. The research group is made up of a number of diverse professions including: doctors, geneticists, speech therapists & audiologists, linguists, psychologists, biomedical researchers. In a society as diverse as South Africa, the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate services is a top priority, particularly in light of the illness burden imposed by HIV/AIDS. The research aims to inform policy and provide practical guidelines for training with the health professions, in line with current health care reform in South Africa and the constitutional rights of its citizens.

Drama for Life enhances dialogue for purposes of social transformation through research, teaching and learning, and community engagement. We achieve this through a critical reflexive and therapeutic approach that relates to current social realities and the rich indigenous knowledge of Africa. Drama for Life is a division of the Wits School of Art, University of the Witwatersrand.



* Shaw, J. E., Sicree, R. A., & Zimmet, P. Z. (2009). Global estimates of the prevalence of diabetes for 2010 and 2030. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 4-14.

** International Diabetes Association (2014), Diabetes Atlas, Africa Region, 6th Edition. Brussels, Belgium.