Cape Town - Around 50% of people living with diabetes are unaware of the diagnosis.
This was revealed during the inaugural Diabetes Summit and first Diabetes Charter, ahead of World Diabetes Day on November 14.
The Diabetes Summit is an initiative of the Diabetics Alliance, co-hosted by the University of Pretoria Diabetes Research Centre.
University of Pretoria vice chancellor and principal Professor Tawana Kupe said: “The objective of this summit is to start a discussion about the best ways to solve the most obvious challenges when it comes to diabetes in South Africa, and to point towards the development of an effective diabetes response. In doing so, we can look to address one of the most urgent health crises facing South Africa today.”
Diabetes was the leading cause of death among women, and the second leading cause of death in men, according to Stats SA.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can start quickly, in a matter of weeks, with Type 2 often developing slowly and over the course of several years, going unnoticed.
World Health Organisation medical advisor for non-communicable diseases (NCD) and mental health South African Country Office, Dr Kibachio Joseph Mwangi, said: “I think it's time to redouble our efforts, it's time to look at our policy coherence. The cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action.”
Clinton Health Access Initiative in South Africa director, Dr Yogan Pillay said: “Treating those that are already diagnosed in 2018 cost an estimated R2.7 billion, and if we have to treat everyone, including those that are not yet diagnosed, which is about 50% of the population, the estimated costs are closer to R22 billion.
“Now that’s money that the health system currently does not have. So if you don't have the money to treat something, you have to prevent it.”
Dr Pillay said asking people to practice healthy behaviours is not sufficient, and that a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach to diabetes prevention is required.
Professor Naomi Levitt, director of the Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa (CDIA), said the prevalence of diabetes has risen.
“It's important to note that half of people with diabetes, identified in community surveys are still unaware of the diagnosis. Poor glycemic and blood pressure control is ever-present. There’s infrequent assessment for complication and measurement of haemoglobin,” she said.