• A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed startling statistics about the current state of diabetes in Africa.

    Since 1980 when the WHO released its first Global Diabetes report, the number of those living with the disease have quadrupled, with the disease claiming more lives every year.

    At the time of WHO’s first report, there were about 108 million adults living with diabetes. The Lancet reported last year that the number had increased by 45 percent since 1990 to 2013 to stand at 381 million adults.

    The World Health Organization and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimate that the diabetes population in Africa will double over the next 25 years.

    Why diabetes in Africa has doubled

    This increase of the disease in Africa can be attributed to augmented urbanization which has led to the adoption of diets high in fat, sugar, and salt. The decrease in regular physical activity and obesity have also contributed to the health menace.

    The increase is also a representation of a population that is more sedentary, spending most of their time seated while working.

    Although the numbers in Africa remain low compared to the rest of the regions in the globe, the doubling of the numbers of those living and dying of the disease is a worrying trend and should be managed now while the numbers are still low.

    Image credit: The WHO

    The WHO says diabetes is also “more than just a health issue”. Mainly, diabetes is linked to economic development and an aging population, according to an article.

    Moreover, diabetes has economic consequences, leading to economic burden on society owing to the high costs of treatment and reduced work productivity as a result of absenteeism or disability.

    Diabetes is an added challenge to Africa

    Already, Africa has so much on her plate to deal with: if it is not the infectious diseases, it’s the rising terrorism and poverty among other ills.

    “Most of these countries are also burdened by communicable diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and diarrheal diseases. Political unrest, poverty and poor leadership with substandard policy regulation and corruption, illiteracy and low education standards are rampant,” said endocrinologist Sundeep Ruder in The Conversation.

    In terms of managing diabetes in Africa, there is so much that the region can learn from the developed world. At the top of the list is better education, advertising constraints, consumer awareness about the importance healthy diets and physical activity.

    Adopting these strategies and customizing them in African can post positive results in the region sooner than later.

    The international health body argues that governments can address the crisis by drafting national policies addressing both the healthy diet and physical activity.

    “Governments need to guide policy to create environments that are conducive to attaining health goals. Trade measures and agricultural policies need attention. The marketing of foods high in sugar, fats, and salt – especially to children – requires attention,” Ruder advised.

    Prevention is better than cure

    Even as governments are being encouraged to draw viable policies, what is really needed in Africa is prevention measures. Drugs such as insulin and newer agents to fight the disease should also be made available at the local level at affordable rates.

    Prevention is better because, apart from being inexpensive, it is less complicated compared to dealing with the treatment of diabetes.

    Primary health care centers should be well equipped with screening programs to detect undiagnosed diabetes at an early stage. This will contribute to curbing such challenges like dealing with treatment and associated complications such as blindness and amputation of limbs.

    Ruder believes that if Africa seriously took diabetes as it has taken HIV/AIDS issue, the infection and consequently death rates would reduce tremendously, thus contributing to a healthy workforce in the region.


    Image credit: Finbarr O’Reiley