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24m people living with diabetes in Africa, say WHO, IDF

By Chukwuma Muanya (Deputy Editor, Health)
12 November 2021   |   4:24 am
Ahead of World Diabetes Day (WDD) on November 14, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), yesterday, said an estimated 24 million people are living with diabetes in Africa...


• 70% of people with ailment not aware of their status
• Africans suffering from disease predicted to rise to 55m by 2045

Ahead of World Diabetes Day (WDD) on November 14, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), yesterday, said an estimated 24 million people are living with diabetes in Africa and the continent is expected to experience the highest increase in diabetes globally, with the number of Africans suffering from the disease predicted to rise to 55 million by 2045.

WHO, at a virtual press conference yesterday, said Africa is the region with the highest number of people who do not know their diagnosis, as an estimated 70 per cent of people with diabetes do not know they have the disease.

Also, WHO, in a preliminary analysis presented at the conference, said Africa’s death rates from COVID-19 infections are significantly higher in patients with diabetes and the continent’s sharp increase in diabetes is clashing with the COVID-19 pandemic and poor access to vaccines.

The WHO analysis evaluated data from 13 countries on underlying conditions in Africans, who tested positive for COVID-19. It revealed a 10.2 per cent case fatality rate in patients with diabetes, compared with 2.5 per cent for COVID-19 patients overall. The case fatality rate for people with diabetes was also twice as high as the fatality rate among patients suffering any comorbidity.

In addition to people with diabetes, the three most frequent underlying conditions included patients with Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) and hypertension.

The countries contributing data to the analysis were Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Guinea, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe and Uganda.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said: “COVID-19 is delivering a clear message: fighting the diabetes epidemic in Africa is in many ways as critical as the battle against the current pandemic.

“The pandemic will eventually subside, but Africa is projected in the coming years to experience the highest increase in diabetes globally. We must act now to prevent new cases, vaccinate people who have this condition and, equally importantly, identify and support the millions of Africans unaware they are suffering from this silent killer.”

Moeti was joined at the virtual press conference by Director, Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Benido Impouma; Head of the Internal Medicine Unit, Cheikh Anta Diop and Chief Executive Officer, Diabetes Africa, Mr. Greg Tracz,

According to WHO, diabetes impairs the body’s ability to produce or process insulin, a substance essential to counteracting a dangerous rise in blood sugar. The disease causes inflammation and poor blood circulation, both of which increase the risk of complications, including death, from COVID-19. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 caused by a condition early in life that damages the pancreas and impairs insulin production; and type 2, which is linked to poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise, whereby the body struggles to process insulin.

WHO said about 90 per cent of diabetes cases globally, and the vast majority in Africa, are type 2, with rising rates in Africa attributed to the same poor diet and sedentary lifestyles causing a surge in type 2 diabetes around the world.

In addition to COVID-19 risks, diabetes can also increase risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, visual impairment, blindness and nerve damage, including erectile dysfunction.

Moeti said: “All Africans at risk of diabetes must have access to testing. We can also stop diabetes from claiming more lives by promoting healthy, affordable diets and regular exercise.”

For Impouma, “health officials in Africa should take advantage of the growing availability of low-cost rapid diagnostic tests to routinely test patients in diabetes centres to ensure early detection and proper care. These centres also can be key venues for vaccination.”

Impouma said since the early days of the pandemic, people with diabetes in countries around the world have been prioritised to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Africa has faced challenges in this strategy.

According to WHO, access to vaccines remains poor. Thus far, only 6.6 per cent of the African population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared with about 40 per cent globally. Data from 37 countries indicates that since March 2021, over 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have gone to Africans with comorbidities, representing 14 per cent of all doses administered so far.

WHO said efforts to prioritise people with comorbidities, like diabetes, are accelerating with about half of those 6.5 million doses administered in just the last couple of months. However, there is still a lot more work to be done to ensure people at high risk receive the vaccines they need.

Moeti said: “Nine months since COVID-19 vaccination campaigns began in Africa, we are still nowhere near where we need to be with protecting our most vulnerable. There is an urgent need to step up vaccination and other key services to people at high risk, including those with diabetes.”