Gertie’s big secret emerges in photo novel aimed at new diabetics

Stellenbosch University lecturer Dr Burt Davis has developed a photo novel, 'Gertie’s Big Secret', aimed at improving knowledge about diabetes.
Stellenbosch University lecturer Dr Burt Davis has developed a photo novel, 'Gertie’s Big Secret', aimed at improving knowledge about diabetes.
Image: Supplied

A Stellenbosch University lecturer has developed a photo novel to improve awareness of diabetes.

Dr Burt Davis, a senior lecturer at the Africa Centre for HIV/Aids management at the institution, developed the novel in collaboration with the Western Cape health department.

Gertie’s Big Secret “will soon make its way to healthcare workers and patients in the Cape Winelands, a region where many people are affected by the disease”, said Davis. It will be available in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa.

Davis said Gertie’s Big Secret aims to improve understanding of how to take responsibility for your diabetes diagnosis, raise awareness about how the healthcare system can support diabetics and increase general knowledge levels related to diabetes. He said the novel will also serve as a prevention tool.

The story revolves around a woman whose life is turned upside down when she finds out she has diabetes. The diagnosis also has an impact on her confectionery business, her friendships and her troubled brother.

Davis said the novel will be distributed in the Cape Winelands because of its high prevalence of diabetes.

“Especially recently diagnosed patients struggle to accept their diagnosis,” he said.

“Part of the reason it relates to myths around diabetes, such as that one cannot live a full, productive life with this disease. Another persistent myth is that diabetes only affects old people.

“People are also overwhelmed by the suggested lifestyle changes that often accompany a positive diagnosis. This results in many patients defaulting on their medication and/or failing to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

Two versions of Gertie’s Big Secret will be made available — one featuring an older main character and the other a younger woman. He said this is as a result of recent research which suggests that an age similarity between the reader and the protagonist can play an important role in how a message is received.

Davis’ previous photo novel, Regret Fixes Nothing, focusing on the tik problem in the province, impressed Dr Lizette Phillips, the health director of the Cape Winelands district. She commissioned Gertie’s Big Secret.

Now Davis intends to partner with the Stellenbosch faculty of medicine and health sciences to develop an interactive digital booklet of Gertie’s Big Secret, using messaging services such as WhatsApp. He is also exploring ideas for photo novels related to illnesses such as epilepsy.

Sandra Maritz, the health department’s communication officer in the Cape Winelands district, sang Gertie’s Big Secret’s praises.

“This photo novel is an indirect way of discussing matters that can be difficult for someone to discuss with their family and friends. This support is very important for the management of this condition and one’s overall journey with diabetes,” said Maritz.

“Dr Davis was able to create characters that people can easily relate to, while incorporating health information and keeping it lighthearted. We are confident that this photo novel will be a great conversation starter about diabetes.”

Gertie’s Big Secret will be distributed as soon as final adjustments to the design and translations are finalised, said Maritz.

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