The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that more than 19 million persons are currently living with diabetes in Africa, with the number expected to grow to 47 million by 2025.
The organisation asked governments in Africa to invest more funds in the prevention and management of diabetes in order to arrest the destructive impact on people’s lives.
“In the African region, more than 19 million people are living with diabetes and this number is expected to grow to 47 million by 2025,” WHO said.
“Sadly, about two-thirds of people living with diabetes in African countries are unaware of their condition. The known risk factors for diabetes include family history, age, being overweight, having a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, or use of alcohol or tobacco.”
In a message from WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, on the occasion of the World Diabetes Day 2021, the organisation said the government should invest in making essential products like insulin, blood glucometers and test strips available to all communities.
“This should be backed by training of health workers in non-communicable disease prevention and management at the district and community level towards improving service availability.
“Ultimately, services to prevent and manage diabetes care are essential components in realizing Universal Health Coverage, so that all people can access the care they need,” she said.
Moeti also urged all people living with diabetes to protect themselves from severe COVID-19 illness and death, by getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can.
The WHO Regional Director warned that if left unchecked, without management and lifestyle changes, diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, visual impairment, blindness and nerve damage, including erectile dysfunction.
According to her, people with diabetes are also at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.
She noted that even when patients are diagnosed, insulin stockouts in public health facilities and the costs of insulin result in individuals not getting the treatment they need.
For example, in Ghana, it would take the average worker more than five days of earnings to save up for a monthly supply of insulin. In most African countries, the cost of insulin and monitoring products for diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases, are paid for out of pocket by individuals and their families,” she said.
In addition, Moeti stated that surveys by WHO on access to essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that access to diabetes care has been severely disrupted in the African region.
She lamented that 100 years on from the hugely important innovation, premature death among people with diabetes is still high in many African countries, because of late diagnosis and a lack of access to insulin.
She explained that in order to improve on equitable access to quality diabetes care, WHO launched the Global Diabetes Compact in April 2021.
“This builds on work in recent years to roll out the WHO Package of Essential Noncommunicable Disease (WHO PEN) interventions for primary health care in low-resource settings. So far, 21 African countries have started using this package. Benin, Eritrea, Eswatini, Lesotho and Togo have achieved national expansion covering all primary health care facilities,” she said
The World Diabetes Day is held every November 14 when the international community using the commemorative event to raise awareness of the growing burden of this disease and strategies to prevent and treat it.
The theme this year, and until 2023, is “Access to diabetes care” because too many people still do not have access to diagnostics, medicines and monitoring devices that can help with diabetes management.
WHO said the year also marks the centenary of the discovery of insulin in 1921, a scientific achievement which changed the lives of people living with diabetes.